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Legislators Report on How Trump’s Budget Will Impact Veterans

June 16, 2017, 12:56 PM HST (Updated June 16, 2017, 4:02 PM) · 1 Comment
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Big Island Now stock photo. June 2016.

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and U.S. Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) released a report detailing the impact of President Donald Trump’s budget on America’s veterans.

While President Trump requested an overall increase in funding for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, his proposed budget shifts funding away from critical programs that veterans rely on—including programs that deliver disability benefits, combat homelessness and provide education and career training to veterans, the legislators said.

“We have a responsibility to make sure that our veterans have access to the benefits they’ve earned and the care they need when they come home,” said Sen. Schatz, Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs. “But the president’s budget betrays that commitment by under-investing in the VA’s ability to meet the unique needs of our veterans through its network of medical facilities and clinics, while proposing to slash disability benefits to the most vulnerable veterans. Any budget that tries to cut benefits for our veterans is simply unacceptable.”

“Veterans deserve better than a budget that cuts benefits and health care that they have earned,” said Sen. Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The president’s budget takes benefits from veterans who have sacrificed the most and those seeking health care from the VA. Balancing the budget on the backs of veterans—especially disabled and elderly veterans—is a non-starter for me because they have earned better than the president’s budget as written.”

“While the president’s budget request appears to provide a $6 billion increase to the VA’s budget, this increase largely comes at the expense of our nation’s most vulnerable veterans,” said Rep. Walz, Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “While I oppose using veterans disability compensation to pay for VA healthcare, I will work to fully fund all VA accounts without asking veterans to sacrifice even more.”

“Trump’s push to eliminate Individual Unemployability benefits would put an alarming number of Vietnam-era veterans in danger of losing their housing, especially given the president’s desire to erase the Interagency Council on Homelessness,” said Rep. Wasserman Schultz, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs. “These and other proposed cuts, including the VA’s rounding down of the cost of living adjustment for service-connected disability, dependency and education program benefits, would leave behind too many of those who served and sacrificed for America on a battlefield of economic uncertainty.”

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The report outlines the Members’ top concerns with the president’s budget.

  • Starving resources at VA facilities in order to increase funds to purchase private care.
    VA healthcare funding will remain almost even with previous years while private care sees a 33% increase, despite a looming overhaul of the VA’s community care programs like the Choice Program.
  • Policy proposals that cut benefits from veterans.
    The budget includes a reduction of the yearly cost-of-living adjustment that allows veterans’ benefits to keep up with inflation and stops payments of Individual Unemployability benefits to elderly veterans who cannot work due to a service-connected injury or disability.
  • Cuts to benefits, research and technology programs.
    The budget also includes a reduced technology budget, despite the VA’s recent announcement that it will soon begin a costly transition to a new electronic health records system.

Congress is in the process of debating the president’s proposed budget. And just this week, after hearing concerns from members of Congress, veterans and advocates, VA Secretary David Shulkin has indicated a willingness to reconsider the budget’s proposed cuts to IU benefits.

Sen. Tester and Rep. Walz serve as the Ranking Members of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees. Sen. Schatz and Rep. Wasserman Schultz serve as Ranking Members of the Senate and House Appropriations Subcommittees on Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs.

The members’ report can be viewed online.

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