The VA is divided into two large divisions: the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). In 2009, Congress passed a law providing that appropriations for the VHA would be made one year in advance. For this reason, the VHA has continued operations during the federal government shutdown.
In July, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs discussed House Bill 813 and Senate Bill 932 which called for the same type of arrangement for VBA funding. At that time, Acting Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning, Robert Snyder, said that the VA did not have a position on the issue of advanced funding for the VBA.
Representative Jeff Miller introduced the House Bill for advanced funding for the VBA reasoning that veterans benefits should not suffer from partisan politics. That was prescient thinking, and Miller’s most recent statement about Senate refusal to fund the VBA reflects it. Miller’s statement reads:
VA employees should be worrying about VA’s mission of service to veterans, not managing an agency on spare change remaining from last year, and it’s a shame that Washington’s dysfunction has led to the furloughs of thousands of dedicated VA employees and may jeopardize benefits for some veterans. But right now the ball is in the Senate’s court. The House has passed two bills – the Honoring Our Promise to America’s Veterans Act and the full 2013 VA appropriations bill – that would end these furloughs and restore VA to the full operating capacity regardless of how long the government shutdown lasts. Harry Reid could stop these furloughs and ensure veterans’ benefits immediately by actin on eight of these bills . . . .
Chairman Miller’s statement proceeds to a direct, frontal political assault on Harry Reid. VA benefits are administered by a federal agency, and thus from the VA’s beginning until the VA’s end, veterans benefits have been and will be the subject of political discourse and an instrument to achieve political goals. VA benefits are inseparable from politics. But, Chairman Miller’s point is well taken: measures exist which would reduce the political risk to VA benefits and which would cement the bipartisan cooperation to insulate the benefits from Pennsylvania Avenue politics.