WASHINGTON – To expand health care to a record-number of Veterans, reduce the number of homeless Veterans and process a dramatically increased number of new disability compensation claims, the White House has announced a proposed $125 billion budget next year for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Our budget proposal provides the resources necessary to continue our aggressive pursuit of President Obama's two over-arching goals for Veterans," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "First, the requested budget will help transform VA into a 21st century organization. And second, it will ensure that we approach Veterans' care as a lifetime initiative, from the day they take their oaths until the day they are laid to rest."
The $125 billion budget request, which has to be approved by Congress, includes $60.3 billion for discretionary spending (mostly health care) and $64.7 billion in mandatory funding (mostly for disability compensation and pensions).
"VA's 2011 budget request covers many areas but focuses on three central issues that are of critical importance to our Veterans – easier access to benefits and services, faster disability claims decisions, and ending the downward spiral that results in Veterans' homelessness," Shinseki said.
Reducing Claims Backlog
The president's budget proposal includes an increase of $460 million and more than 4,000 additional claims processors for Veterans benefits. This is a 27 percent funding increase over the 2010 level.
The 1,014,000 claims received in 2009 were a 75 percent increase over the 579,000 received in 2000. Shinseki said the Department expects a 30 percent increase in claims – to 1,319,000 – in 2011 from 2009 levels.
One reason for the increase is VA's expansion of the number of Agent Orange-related illnesses that automatically qualify for disability benefits. Veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicides during the Vietnam War are likely to file additional claims that will have a substantial impact upon the processing system for benefits, the secretary said.
"We project significantly increased claims inventories in the near term while we make fundamental improvements to the way we process disability compensation claims," Shinseki said.
Long-term reduction of the inventory will come from additional manpower, improved business practices, plus an infusion of $145 million in the proposed budget for development of a paperless claims processing system, which plays a significant role in the transformation of VA.