New debt ceiling legislation passed by House Republicans on Wednesday, April 26 is poised to make significant budgetary cuts to VA, seriously harming its ability to provide a variety of much needed services to veterans.
The Limit, Save, Grow Act, which passed with a narrow, near-party line vote of 217-215, is not expected to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate, and in some ways is meant only to emphasize Republican priorities in an era when debt ceiling fights have become a vehicle for political negotiation. For those reasons, the worries surrounding VA funding may not be as urgent as they first appear, but that doesn’t mean veterans shouldn’t pay close attention. Lawmakers may revise the bill and attempt to pass it again, and there’s no telling what may or may not make the cut.
VA Describes How a 22% Spending Cut Impairs Critical Programs
Many veterans’ advocates, including VA itself, have issued warnings about how the legislation will harm VA’s ability to serve all of the veterans who would benefit from their assistance. On a broad level, the bill proposes capping all new non-defense federal spending for fiscal year (FY) 2024 at FY 2022 levels, which amounts to a $130 billion cut to spending. This sweeping cut includes services provided by VA, whose spending is not considered defense-related. According to VA, the bill will result in a 22% cut to critical programs, and severely hamper VA’s ability to serve veterans in several ways.
According to a VA press release, the areas that could be affected by the current bill’s proposed cuts are the following:
- Medical care: VA estimates up to 30 million fewer veteran outpatient visits and 81,000 jobs lost in the Veterans Health Administration, reducing veterans’ ability to secure appointments for care such as wellness checks, cancer screenings, mental health services, and substance use disorder treatment.
- Telehealth access: Cuts to IT infrastructure and support would hamper VA’s ongoing efforts to expand care via video-to-home telehealth and equipment to the homes of veterans in rural areas.
- Wait times for benefits: Veterans and survivors would need to wait longer for disability benefits, pensions, life insurance, GI Bill educational support, and employment services since the Veterans Benefits Organization would lose up to 6,000 jobs, increasing the disability claims backlog by up to 134,000 claims.
- Construction of healthcare facilities: Construction funding would be cut by $565 million for critical upgrades to hospitals and clinics, despite VA facilities having a median age of 60 years compared to 13 years for private sector facilities.
- Cemeteries and memorials: The proposal would cut about 500 staff from VA’s National Cemetery Administration, as well as delay the opening of 5 new national cemeteries that would serve up to 1.6 million veterans and their eligible family members.
- Veterans’ housing: Up to 50,000 veterans may lose out on Housing Choice Vouchers, putting them at greater risk of homelessness.
- Food security: Newly proposed work requirements would take away SNAP benefits from older and vulnerable veterans and their families. Currently up to 1.3 million veterans rely on SNAP.
- Mental health, substance use, and other health services: Proposed cuts would harm the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) community mental health centers, mental health and substance use prevention grants, and other public health programs. DHHS assists many veterans and their families, especially those who are not enrolled in VA healthcare.
- Job training and support for homeless veterans: Proposed cuts would harm the abilities of the Department of Labor’s Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program to assist veterans who are experiencing, or at a great risk of, homelessness. Up to 4,300 veterans may be immediately affected.
VA clarifies that these estimates assume an across-the-board cut of 22% compared to its FY 2023 budget. Revisions to the bill could further clarify how such cuts would be distributed. Nevertheless, it’s easy to see how such cuts would affect a large swath of veterans, all of whom may be in need of a variety of services.
VFW Draws Attention to the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022
VFW Washington Office Executive Director Ryan Gallucci goes a step farther than VA and questions the bill’s impact on the Honoring Our PACT Act of 2022. In a letter to Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Gallucci explains that the PACT Act had not yet even been passed when the FY 2022 budget was set, and worries that proposed cuts jeopardize the improvements to VA healthcare and benefits set in place by the hard-won bill. The PACT Act would essentially not go into effect.
The PACT Act is the most recent landmark legislation benefiting veterans, in that it addresses the the lack of Military Toxic Exposure benefits and related denied claims, as well as processing backlogs, hiring delays, and long wait times for appointments. The bill does much to assist veterans of the past 20 years who were involved in the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who have experienced health disorders previously rare or unseen in veterans of other eras and conflicts.
“A Huge Ding in Morale”
Sarah Streyder, the executive director of the nonpartisan group Secure Families Initiative, emphasizes that VA is already known for backlogs and waitlists that impair its ability to serve veterans, and that the proposed budget cuts would only further damage VA’s capabilities. She goes on to say that “harm is already being done,” whether the bill passes or not, and that it “harm(s) the morale of actively serving families” in addition to breaking the promise made to combat veterans that the government will take care of them when they come home.
The proposed cuts are thus deeply concerning to many veterans and those involved in the care of veterans. However, as stated above, there is no reason to panic yet. The bill as it is written does not explicitly describe where cuts would be made and by how much, nor is it likely to pass in its current form.
What Can You Do?
If you want to speak your mind about the proposed spending bill, you can always contact your state representative to ensure that your voice is heard and your concerns are logged with those most able to help. You can find your representative at Democracy.io.
If you have concerns regarding disability benefits or other benefits that you have been denied, or which you are newly eligible to receive, we are always on hand to assist. As noted above, even without budget cuts VA suffers from long wait times and backlogs, so it’s best to make sure you have built the best claim or appeal to ensure you get the benefits you deserve. Simply call VA Disability Group at 844-VET-LAWS or contact us online.