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Legislators Call for Budget That Honors Veterans

December 13, 2017, 11:34 AM HST (Updated December 13, 2017, 11:34 AM)
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Big Island Now stock image. June 2016.

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) are calling on Congress to pass a year-end budget deal that honors veterans.

After Congress passed a short-term funding bill set to run out Dec. 22, the Senators are calling for responsible, long-term funding that provides more stability and certainty to veterans who rely on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for healthcare and benefits.

The Senators are joined by leading Veterans Service Organizations to demand responsible investments in the VA’s staff and medical research, efforts to prevent veteran homelessness, and to move forward on comprehensive legislative to streamline VA community care programs and expand caregiver services.

“Everybody pays lip service to veterans,” said Sen. Schatz, Ranking Member of the Senate Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee. “But let’s be clear. This fight right now is about whether the Department of Defense—and the Department of Defense only—gets more resources. What we’re saying is, if you stand by service members, you stand by veterans. And that means funding defense and non-defense on an equal basis. That means the VA gets the resources it needs to fund programs, upgrade systems and improve infrastructure and give our veterans the best quality care possible.”

“We must empower the VA to hire more doctors, nurses, specialists and mental health care professionals, and we must cut the red tape and barriers to VA care,” said Sen. Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The year-end budget deal must provide the VA with resources to live up to the promises our nation made to those who stepped up to serve, and Congress has to hold VA accountable for doing exactly that.”

Joining the Senators were Matt Shuman of the American Legion, Carlos Fuentes of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Garry Augustine of DAV.

“The reality is very clear. The men and women who have selflessly worn the fabric of our military deserve better,” said Matt Shuman, director of the Legislative Division at the American Legion. “They proudly served this country and now this country needs to keep the promise it made to our veterans. Congress needs to make sure that the VA is in a position to treat veterans with quality and respect, including medical services, G.I. Bill benefits and preventing homelessness. Whatever budget package is passed this month, it must include appropriate funding to provide the best care for veterans.”

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“VA is better situation than most other federal departments under a continuing resolution because it receives advanced appropriations, but there is still a $2.6 billion difference between the advance appropriations VA is given under the current CR and the amount VA has requested and the Senate MilConVA bill would appropriate,” said Carlos Fuentes, National Legislative Service Director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “This means veterans are waiting longer or even being denied access to needed health care and benefits simply because Congress is unable to pass full year appropriations. Congress must reach a budget deal that fully funds the benefits and service our nation’s veterans have earned and deserve.” 

“It’s imperative that Congress pass, and the president sign, a full year budget that adequately funds veterans programs, benefits and services in order to keep our promises to the men and women who served,” said Garry J. Augustine, executive director of the DAV. “VA must be provided sufficient resources to fill vacancies, bolster infrastructure, modernize IT and finally provide equity and fairness for caregivers of severely disabled veterans of all eras.”

Audio of the press call held earlier today is available here.

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