This afternoon VA unveiled its budget proposal for the FY2011 VA budget, including advance appropriations for veterans' health care in FY2012. AMVETS leaders were on hand, as VA officials gave a comprehensive breakdown of the budget proposal to the nation's top veterans' organizations.
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Deputy Secretary Scott Gould explained VA's vision behind the new budget proposal and deputy secretaries from each VA administration were on hand to field questions. In his opening remarks, Shinseki said the FY2011 budget would focus on three areas: improved access to benefits, faster disability claims decisions and putting an end to veterans' homelessness.
VA's total budget proposal calls on Congress to approve $125 billion for VA in FY2011 and an additional $54.3 billion in advance appropriations for VA health care in FY2012. VA officials noted that the proposed figure would represent a 20 percent increase in the total VA budget over the last two years.
The proposed budget provided for increases in funding to meet some of the most significant needs, as identified by AMVETS members for the 2010 Legislative Agenda, including the claims backlog, female veterans' health care, rural and remote veterans' health care, education and mental health.
One of the most significant new investments comes in the form of more than $800 million dedicated to transitional housing programs to assist homeless veterans, as part of the Secretary's five-year plan to end homelessness.
However, with new presumptions for Agent Orange-related conditions, VA is actually expecting the processing time for claims to increase in the short term, before a series of remedies help to alleviate the strains on the current system. While the average wait time in 2009 stood at 161 days, veterans may be waiting up to 190 days in FY2011 due to the influx of Agent Orange claims and continued new claims from Iraq and Afghanistan.
VA's Acting Under Secretary for Benefits Michael Walcoff assured the assembled veterans' groups that the VA's goal was the bring the total processing time down to fewer than 125 days over the next two years, with the addition of more than 4,000 full time employees handling claims and additional resources dedicated to the Veterans Benefits Management System, or VBMS, which would provide a comprehensive IT solution to the current analog claims process.
AMVETS and the Independent Budget partners will unveil their budget proposal to Congress on Thursday. Check back tomorrow for further reaction to VA's announcement and more details about Thursday's hearing on the FY2011 VA budget.
(Image: Cover to the VA's FY2011 budget proposal. Hyperlink to VA's Web page with details on the proposal.)