The President included $163.9 billion in his proposed budget for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. This sends $1 out of every $25 in the federal budget to the VA.
President Obama's proposed budget includes three interesting features:
* The Veterans Job Corp - This $1 Billion proposal aims to hire veterans for federal government positions to include hundreds for the Department of the Interiors efforts to upgrade and rebuild the National Park system. President Obama proposed this two years ago, but the measure was stripped by Congress. While this is a relatively modest sum, it does attempt to address the high levels of unemployment found in the younger veteran cohort.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans aged 18-24 face a 11.9% unemployment rate and veterans aged 25-34 face a 8.8% unemployment rate.
* Addressing the VA Backlog - More than 370,000 pending disability claims are older than 125 days with the average veteran waiting longer 262 days for a decision according to March VA statistics. The President proposes $138.7 million for an improved Veteran Claims Intake Program and an additional $173.3 million for the VA's paperless claim initiatives. While this sounds promising on its face, similar programs have failed in the past. Time and money are the only cures for this ill.
According to the VA, Boston-area veterans face an average of 301 days for a VA claim decision. There are currently 6,931 claims pending with 58% older than 125 days.
* Research and Development - Advances in battlefield medicine and evacuation platforms have had an unexpected effect in the last 12 years of war - more seriously wounded and disabled veterans. The proposal earmarks $589 millions for medical and prosthetic research and $7 billion for strengthening mental health programs. With disability, mental health and suicide serving as the largest challenges to our most recent veteran generations, it's the least we can do to provide a quality of life worthy of such a large sacrifice.
According to the VA, the "total number of Veterans accessing VA health care for prosthetics, sensory aids, and related services has increased by more than 70 percent since 2000."
Federal resources are not without limits and decision makers will choose in the coming months where and how we spend our veteran benefit dollars. The FY2015 budget fights will be brutal. Veterans should understand these numbers and initiatives and voice their preferences before others do it for them.