The VA has a history of misusing taxpayer funds on overblown or mismanaged projects. The constant claim from lawmakers in the past has been “the VA wouldn’t mess up so much if they just had more funding.” But even the VA Secretary himself disagrees with that narrative, stating on multiple occasions that the VA’s problems are not resource problems. But does the White House’s FY18 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs reflect the need for realignment rather than increased funding? And is the budget acceptable as is?
On the one hand, the budget contains some good steps towards better health care choice for veterans, both through investment in health care choice and groundwork for stronger choice reforms. This bill also uses existing funds to increase staff numbers within the Board of Veterans Appeals to help reduce the appeals backlog.
But on the other hand, there are several key pitfalls in this bill. The construction budget is still nearly $900 million dollars— despite serious issues in construction management in the past that have yet to be resolved and the fact that Secretary Shulkin is making plans for a BRAC-style assessment of the hundreds of vacant or underutilized facilities for which VA already pays. The budget also proposes an increase in maintenance and operations by over $1.2 billion, which doesn’t seem necessary if the Choice Program is to be continued and improved like Shulkin says it will.
These examples are just a glimpse into the entire budget, but they’re important. The budget is still allowing for more funding when the VA should be focused on efficiently and effectively using their funding instead. Secretary Shulkin has said the VA does not have a resource problem but culture and process problems. Congress should work to improve this proposed budget to reflect the need for accountability and efficiency.
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