While the federal government does everything it can to cut spending, that philosophy has not made its way to the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to federal budget figures, the VA will spend more today in inflation adjusted dollars than it did after World War II and the Vietnam War. The VA budget is expected to rise 50% since 2009 to $152.7 billion, which is more than double the $70.9 billion spent in 2005.
The budget includes not just monetary benefits paid out to disabled veterans and their families, but a large percentage is for health care costs. As the large Vietnam veteran population ages, they have growing health care needs. The more recent crop of veterans are returning with new ailments that warrant research and new ways to treat. The increasing female veteran population has resulted in specialty clinics popping up across the country. This summer, a 184,000 square foot outpatient clinic, the largest VA clinic in the country, opened up in Austin, Texas. In 2005, alone, the Dayton, Ohio VA, treated 32,858 veterans who accounted for 360,946 visits at a cost of $588 per visit. It is projected that next year those figures will be 36,691/470,151/$607.
Despite the cost cutting done in other areas of the government, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle do not seem to be complaining about the rising VA budget. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said, “We can’t be penny wise pound foolish on this.” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, said, “Exempting the VA from the effects of sequestration is necessary to ensure veterans and their families continue to receive the services, care and the assistance that they have earned and deserved.” Todd Harrison at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said, “I don’t think it is likely Congress will make substantial reforms in this area… no one wants to be seen turning their back on veterans, especially as the military is winding down two protracted wars.”
Although the VA has support for its spending on veterans, lawmakers are keeping a close eye on how it spends its money internally. The VA has been criticized for its lavish spending on conferences and bonuses to senior executives that were not linked to performance. Its management of the claims backlog and appealed claims continues to be a serious point of contention.