15 October 2009

VA Funding Reform Bill Clears Congress

/PRNewswire/ -- The American Federation of Government Employees, today, lauded the efforts of Congress in passing historic legislation to reform the way it funds health care provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more than 20 years, AFGE has advocated for substantial reform in the VA funding process. AFGE applauds these members of Congress for their commitment to the VA, its patients, and its employees.

Earlier this year, AFGE stood with veterans' service organizations and House and Senate VA Committee members in staunch support as Rep. Filner and Sen. Akaka introduced the legislation. "We applaud the members of Congress for their commitment to veterans' care," said J. David Cox, AFGE national secretary treasurer and retired VA nurse. "It is the right thing to do for VA employees and for our nation's veterans."

The advanced appropriations bill, which was supported by the president when he was a Senator, will end the unpredictability and inadequacy of the VA's discretionary funding process, by allowing Congress to provide health care dollars to the VA in advance. The president is expected to sign the legislation.

AFGE and its National VA Council have been longtime advocates for mandatory funding of the VA, an approach widely supported by the veterans' community. AFGE with the nine veterans' groups comprising the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform endorsed advanced appropriations as an alternative funding approach that is achievable in the short term. As detailed in the bill, advanced appropriations would authorize Congress to approve funding for VA health care a year in advance of the next fiscal year. The Partnership has also advocated that the Government Accountability Office study and provide a report to Congress annually for the next three years on the VA's budget forecasting model and estimates.

"The current VA funding process is broken. The delays in funding drive up costs, threaten patient care, and weaken the VA as a whole," said Cox.

The VA has received its appropriation from Congress on time only three times in the last 23 years. This reliance on discretionary budget dollars has taken a heavy toll on both the timeliness and the adequacy of VA health care. Medical center directors forced to rely on discretionary funding must delay hiring nurses and other clinicians, repairs to their facilities, and new medical equipment purchases. The delays that result adversely impact medical care and increase costs by forcing understaffed hospitals to turn to private agency nurses for fee-basis care and delaying diagnostic testing for patients.

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