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Budget Seeks 10.6% More to Fight Veterans’ Trauma

President Barack Obama today proposed a $61.85 billion budget for discretionary spending on U.S. military veterans in fiscal year 2012, including $6 billion to treat troops who return from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars with post-traumatic stress disorders and brain injuries.

The total budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs, the second-largest federal agency with about 300,000 employees, is $124.3 billion, including $65.5 billion projected for mandatory entitlements, such as disability compensation. The $124.3 billion figure does not reflect about $3 billion in anticipated revenue from health-insurance reimbursements.

The numbers used by the White House in its budget documents reflect budget outlays for the mandatory entitlements. The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday afternoon that it had budget authority of $70 billion for the mandatory portion of its budget, bringing the total VA budget for 2012 to $132 billion.

Congress will take up the request for $61.85 billion in discretionary VA spending amid efforts to reduce budget deficits. The fiscal 2012 proposal, for the year beginning Oct. 1, represents a 10.6 percent increase over the enacted fiscal year 2010 budget for the VA. The medical component of VA discretionary funding for 2011 was approved as part of the 2010 budget. Other elements continue to be funded at 2010 level under the current continuing resolution.

It is the second largest agency budget increase after the Department of Energy, which has a proposed 12 percent increase over 2010.

Medical Spending

Obama’s budget also includes $52.3 billion for medical care in fiscal year 2013, about $1.5 billion more than the 2012 request of $50.8 billion. Congress requested the medical-care budget a year in advance because medical care makes up more than 80 percent of the VA’s discretionary budget. Congress approves the medical-care money for two consecutive years.

Congress is funding the federal government for the current fiscal year through a stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution, which expires March 4. The continuing resolution funds the government at fiscal year 2010 levels because Congress did not approve a 2011 budget for federal agencies. The VA has available $48.2 billion for fiscal year 2011 approved as part of the previous year’s budget.

Obama’s 2012 budget proposal includes $939 million to expand the VA’s services for homeless veterans and those at risk of becoming homeless. A recent analysis published by the VA and Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded that new veterans, likely of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, are “at particularly high risk of becoming homeless.”

Homeless Veterans

About 76,000 veterans were homeless on a given night in 2009, while about 136,000 Veterans spent at least one night in a shelter that year, according to the analysis published Feb. 10.

Veterans represent about 12 percent of all homeless persons counted nationwide during the period of the 2009 study. Of those, more than 11,300 veterans 18 to 30 years old, an age group that served during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, used a shelter, according to the report.

Obama is also budgeting $953 million for contingencies in 2012 to address potential costs to the VA as a result of changes in economic conditions.

Obama is proposing $183 million for a paperless claims processing system. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff, had planned to implement a paperless claims processing system by 2012 to reduce the disability claims processing time to 125 days.

More Claims

More than a million benefits claims are awaiting VA approval, according to numbers cited by the American Legion, a veterans’ service organization. The frequency of claims filings has increased because of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans returning to the U.S. and the recent addition to the claims process of several medical conditions related to Vietnam-era exposure to toxic chemicals such as Agent Orange.

Overall, Obama is proposing $3.1 billion for the VA’s information-technology overhaul, about a $150 million decrease from the 2010 budget.

The VA also is working to develop electronic health-care records, paperless claims systems and integration of medical and service records with the Department of Defense.

The VA and the Pentagon are collaborating on the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record program to allow the digital sharing of health and benefits data of military members and veterans. CACI International Inc. said in October it won a $91 million contract to work on that program.

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