VA secretary calls House budget plan too small, harmful

VA secretary calls House budget plan too small, harmful

VA Secretary Bob McDonald on Tuesday blasted a $1.4 billion shortfall in the House’s budget proposal for fiscal 2016 as “inadequate” to maintain his department’s reform and outreach efforts.

“It will cause veterans to suffer,” he told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “It means fewer veterans will get care.”

Last week, the House subcommittee that oversees the VA budget offered its first draft of the department’s fiscal 2016 spending blueprint, a $163.2 billion plan that they touted as another healthy increase.

But the plan would trim veterans health care programs by $690 million and cut the department’s request for construction spending by half. McDonald called those plans “unacceptable” despite the other funding boosts in the plan.

He said the health care cuts represent “the equivalent of over 70,000 fewer veterans receiving care,” while the construction cuts will stop four major medical center projects and six other cemetery expansion efforts.

McDonald was on Capitol Hill to lobby not only for that extra fiscal 2016 money but also for permission to shift another $1 billion from emergency funds approved last summer to finish the controversial VA medical center construction project in Denver, which has seen its price tag balloon in recent years.

Originally projected around $800 million, the overdue Denver project is now expected to cost closer to $1.7 billion and take another two years to complete. Congress needs to OK the funds transfer by mid-May or risk even higher costs.

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