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VA could receive funding one year in advance

The U.S. House Veterans' Affairs Committee voted unanimously this week to send the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 to the full House. A vote is expected as early as next week.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista), chairman of the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee, and cosponsored by 120 other members of congress, including fellow California representatives Brian Bilbray (R-Carlsbad) and Susan Davis (D-San Diego).

Delays in VA health care funding have become the norm. This bill aims to approve budgets one year in advance to avoid future gaps.

“I called it a historic vote because it will set the VA on a budgeting schedule that will allow everybody to be funded timely and adequately and with good planning,” Filner said. “If you know what’s coming ahead of time, you can plan better.”

He said unreliable funding prevents the VA from hiring employees, affects facilities planning and negatively impacts the quality of care veterans receive.

“And that’s what the whole thing is about is quality of care,” Filner said. “We want to keep it high quality.”

According to a press release from Bilbray’s office, only on four occasions in the last 20 years has the VA received funding on time.

"This is absolutely unacceptable,” Bilbray said. “We owe a debt of honor to these men and women, and the promise of funding their health care must be upheld, no matter what.”

If the bill ultimately is signed into law, the VA budget still would be reviewed annually, but would allocate funds for the following fiscal year. As long as the budget is approved and funds are made available before the next fiscal year, the VA likely will not feel an affect from any delays.

Discussion of advanced funding for the VA began about two years ago, Filner said, during a year when funding was delayed. The bill to put the plan in action was introduced early this calendar year.

Filner said his committee plans to request a vote by the full House next week. He and other lawmakers, including Davis, say they believe the bill will pass.

“The fact that H.R. 1016 passed unanimously in the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs shows that the legislation has strong bipartisan support and has an excellent chance of becoming law,” Davis said. “I look forward to supporting the bill once it reaches the House floor.”

No one from the VA office in Washington, D.C., returned calls before the end of the day. A spokeswoman for the VA San Diego Healthcare System said she was not authorized to comment.

Send your comments to Erin.Bridges@sddt.com

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