VA Health Care Budget Score: Veterans Zero... So What Else Is New

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In a sentence -- the lack of passage of spending bills by the 109th Congress means the VA will not be able to make use of all their funding for targeted heath care needs, once it is made available sometime in February 2007. How can that be? Read on.

How Many Months in a Year

12 months in a year, right? Well, when it comes to federal budget spending not necessarily.

Regardless of when the full-funding is finally made available, the end of the fiscal-year does not change. Don't get the money until month 5 -- you only then get 7 months to spend a 12-month budget.

How Is... the VA Health Care Budget Spent

VA Health Care funds must be spent during the "year," and only for the targeted health care expenditures, right? Again, when it comes to federal budget spending that is not necessarily the case.

Any at-the-end-of-the-fiscal-year unspent funds are not necessarily lost; they can be "returned to VA headquarters." Then, however they are eventually spent in the following fiscal year; it might not be for the original, assigned, reason.

How Can That Be and What Does That Mean -- Fiscal Years 2004, 2005, and 2006

In two sentences and again -- when Congress gives the VA 7 to 10 months to spend its 12 month budget, that which isn't spent gets "reallocated back to VA headquarters." When it does get spent, perhaps the next fiscal year, the VA can pretty much spend it where they want, which all too often is not the original program for which it had been earmarked.

This past federal fiscal year, which ended September 30, 2006, VA hospitals "returned to headquarters" $46 million in mental health funding because they could not properly spend it fast enough on new programs to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems afflicting veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA also never "distributed" another $42 million in new mental health programs, despite surging demand. Furthermore, of the $158 million that the VA did "send" to medical centers and clinics for new programs, about 30 percent was "returned to headquarters" because it couldn't be spent by the end of the fiscal year.

It had similar troubles in fiscal 2004 and 2005. Congress was two months late in passing the spending bills for fiscal years in 2004 and 2005. This delay gave the VA only a 10-month window for spending what it planned over the course of an entire remaining fiscal year.

Enter fiscal 2007.

How Can That Be and What Does That Mean -- Fiscal Year 2007; October 1 2006 to September 30, 2007

After "watching" two months pass-them-by since the end of the 2006 fiscal year, Congress still did not pass the VA's Health Care budget for 2007 -- now expected to pass in mid-February 2007. Meanwhile, the VA is running at 2006 funding levels.

This means the VA will have no more than 7 months to spend the needed fiscal 2007 $3 billion anticipated health care increases over fiscal 2006 levels, when the spending bill is finally passed.

And All This Means

"It's difficult for them to provide the services in the interim period, and then all of a sudden they get this huge infusion of money and they can't spend it quickly enough," said Joe Violante, legislative director for the Disabled American Veterans.


The appropriations process isn't working

," Violante also said.

You think.

And so, for us Veterans, what else is new...

--- Regards, Walt Schmidt