President seeks $12 billion increase for VA programs

In the fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget, President Trump proposed a total of $198.6 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This request, an increase of $12.1 billion over 2018, will ensure the nation’s veterans receive high-quality health care and timely access to benefits and services. The budget also continues to implement reforms that will modernize VA and rebuild the full trust of veterans.

According to VA Secretary David Shulkin, “The 2019 budget reflects the strong commitment of the president to provide the services and benefits that our nation’s veterans have earned.”

The budget includes $88.9 billion in discretionary funding, including medical collections – $6.8 billion (8.3 percent) above the FY18 budget. The budget also includes $109.7 billion in mandatory funding for benefit programs, $5.3 billion (5.1 percent) above FY 2018.

Health care
The FY19 budget requests $76.5 billion for medical care, including collections, positions VA to continue expanding health care services, improving quality, and expanding choice to over nine million enrolled veterans. This request includes:

  • $1.8 billion for programs for homeless and at-risk veterans;
  • $511 million for gender-specific health-care services for women;
  • $510 million for caregivers’ benefits; and,
  • $382 million for opioid treatment and pain management safety.

The medical and prosthetic research program would receive $727 million, $87 million above the FY18 budget. VA will continue to focus on critical areas, such as mental health, pain management, prosthetics and the Million Veteran Program.

Suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority. The request of $8.6 billion for mental health services, $468 million (5.8 percent) above 2018, supports standardized suicide screening and risk assessments, and expands options for post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. The budget also funds emergent mental health services to certain former servicemembers with other than honorable administrative discharges, and it supports President Trump’s commitment to provide access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for transitioning servicemembers in the year following their discharge, separation or retirement, as directed by executive order.

VA is committed to strengthening and supporting VA’s capacity for the direct delivery of health care through the reforms proposed in the administration’s Veterans Coordinated Access & Rewarding Experiences proposal, transmitted to Congress last fall. The FY19 budget sustains the administration’s commitment to VA’s community care program and includes a total program level of $14.2 billion, 9.1 percent above 2018, after adjusting for a change in timing of obligations.

Veterans benefits
VA’s FY 2019 budget request includes $2.9 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to administer the distribution of $116.9 billion in obligations for timely benefits and quality services to veterans and other beneficiaries. This budget will enable VBA to process 1.3 million veteran disability compensation rating claims, 4.5 million education claims and 2.9 million home loan guarantees for borrowers. The request also supports VA’s implementation of the historic Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, overhauling VA’s appeals process. The new process empowers veterans by providing them with the ability to tailor the process to meet their individual needs and enables VA to provide more timely resolution of their appeal.

Information Technology
The FY19 budget requests $4.2 billion for information technology (IT), $129 million above the FY18 budget, to modernize systems and services and enhance the IT infrastructure. This request includes: $381 million for development projects such as modernization of legacy systems; development of a Digital Health Platform; and a new Financial Management System.

Electronic Health Record Modernization
Next year’s budget also requests $1.2 billion to continue implementation of a single, accurate, lifetime Electronic Health Record that will improve VA services and significantly enhance the safety and coordination of care for veterans who receive medical care, not only from VA, but the Department of Defense and community partners.

Other key services for veterans
Major and minor construction projects would receive a total of $1.8 billion for a number of projects, including: 1) a new spinal cord injury unit in Dallas; 2) construction of a community-based outpatient clinic and renovation of domiciliary in Canandaigua, N.Y.; and, 3) cemetery expansions at the VA St. Louis Health Care System-Jefferson Barracks; Rittman, Ohio; Miami; and Holly, Mich.

VA’s National Cemetery Administration’s system is slated to receive $315.8 million to administer the 139 national cemeteries, including funding for the activation of nine new cemeteries, which will open in 2019 and 2020; and, the Office of Inspector General will receive $172.1 million to enhance oversight.