In partnership with other Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), BVA worked for more than two decades to change the way Congress passed legislation to allocate funds to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) each year. As it was, almost universally, such appropriations were approved very late.
On October 8, by a 419-1 margin, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1016, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009. During the months prior to passage, the legislation became commonly known as the “Advance Funding” Bill.
The Senate approved its version of the bill on October 19 under unanimous consent and without a roll call vote. It became Public Law 111-81 on October 22 as Tom Miller and other organizational leaders stood behind President Obama at the White House to witness the landmark Presidential signing.
The significance of this unprecedented victory in a long fight cannot be overstated. We now look ahead toward a VA health care future that will include timely and adequate budgets at the start of each fiscal year. This pinnacle is the culmination of years of work to reform the budget process and will dramatically improve VA’s ability to manage the delivery of high-quality health care and rehabilitation services.
While millions of veterans may not immediately notice the changes that result from the legislation, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and every VA Medical Center will now, many months in advance, know what their budgets will be. With much more efficiency and effectiveness, VA administrators will be able to hire staff, open new programs, and provide services year round. They will no longer have to guess when their budgets might actually be available as they make important fiscal decisions.
P.L. 111-81 is responsible for an additional $44.7 billion that will be available to VHA on October 1, 2010. This figure will be sufficient as the agency plans its FY 2011 budget.
BVA appreciates the strong leadership exemplified by both House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA-52) and Senate Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-HI) in introducing the Advance Appropriations legislation last winter. The two must also be commended for the manner in which they overcame obstacles throughout the process, not the least of which was enlisting the bi-partisan support of many members of Congress and the top leadership of both legislative bodies.
The FY 2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs annual Appropriations Bill passed the House back on July 10. Senate passage came on November 17. The legislation adds an additional $5.4 billion, or 11.7 percent, to the VA budget above last year’s historic increases.
In just three years, we have seen a $14.5 billion increase for VA. This does not include the $1.4 billion for additional construction and maintenance of VA buildings that was part of the spring American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or P.L. 111-5, better known still as the stimulus package.
Blinded veterans will also benefit in the short and long-range future from successful passage of legislation introduced earlier this year by Representative Debbie Halvorson (D-IL-11) and