Wasserman Schultz Statement on Veterans Affairs 2018 Budget Request
Thank you Mr. Chairman and welcome Mr. Secretary.
We appreciate you being here in your new capacity; now operating on a bigger stage and with the even greater responsibility that comes with the duties of the Secretary.
Mr. Chairman, since fiscal year 2008, the VA has seen a tremendous, 70 percent increase in key VA accounts: the VA medical care accounts have grown from $36.7 to $64.4 billion dollars, and the overall discretionary accounts have increased from $43.6 billion dollars to $74.3 billion dollars.
FY 2018 is no different. The President’s skinny budget requests $78.9 billion dollars in VA discretionary funding; a $4.4 billion dollar or 6 percent increase from the 2017 enacted level. The 2018 budget also requests legislative authority and $3.5 billion in mandatory authority to continue the Veterans Choice Program. This would support a program that was initially meant as a stop-gap, temporary fund.
Mr. Secretary, while I am glad you are here today, it is unfortunate that we will not be able to discuss the specifics of the VA budget request. This lack of detail makes it extremely challenging for the Committee to properly do its job.
Moreover, given this 70 percent increase over the past ten years, it is critical that this Committee has the opportunitiy to analyze and understand these numbers, as well as know more about why the VA continues to have issues of mismanagement, wait-times, and less-than-adequate care.
While I can understand this degree of growth has its growing pains, it is crucial we understand how these issues are being addressed. And once we more fully understand those issues, at what point do we ask if this continued growth is unsustainable?
Mr. Secretary, I ask these questions with genuine concern for the future of the VA.
Obviously, our driving concern must be to provide the best care to our veterans. However, if we don’t control costs and ensure that the resources this Committee provides are used in an appropriate and efficient fashion, we actually hurt our ability to help veterans and deliver on our mission of providing top-quality care.
With that in mind Mr. Chairman, it is imperative we discuss a number of key issues, including: the Choice program and the state of the VA’s Electronic Health Records.
- How does the VA envision Choice, a mandatory program, working with Community Care, a discretionary program?
- After creating the Community Care account, which includes $9.4 billion dollars in advanced FY2018 apprporiations, why does the budget request also include $3.5 billion dollars for the Choice program?
- Additionally, where is the VA in implementing and improving its Electronic Health Record system and in executing Congress’ mandate for full inter-operability with DOD’s systems? As we discussed this past Monday in my office, a solution to this issue is long overdue.
Finally, Mr. Secretary, I hope you can address the significant number of vacancies at the Department and when those positions are expected to be filled. Currently, eleven senate-confirmable positions remain vacant, including: the Under Secretary for Benefits, the Under Secretary for Health, the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, General Counsel, Assistant Secretary for Information & Technology, Assistant Secretary for Policy & Planning, Assistant Secretary for Management, and the Chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals.
Mr. Secretary, from our discussions, I believe you earnestly want to reform and improve the VA. I believe it is our duty to ensure you have adequate resources to do so, and that proper oversight is in place to guard against abuses and mismanagement.
As you can see, we have a lot to discuss today.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to share my concerns. I yield back.