By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Mideast edition, Saturday, May 9, 2009
WASHINGTON — Veterans programs would see dramatic funding increases under the White House’s proposed fiscal 2010 budget, including more money to focus on the health needs of recent combat veterans and mental health illnesses.
The VA will get a 15 percent increase in funds over fiscal 2009 if the president’s plan is approved. In discretionary spending, the total is $55.9 billion, an 11 percent jump from this fiscal year.
That’s the largest one-year increase in veterans spending in the last 30 years, according to Rita Reed, principal deputy assistant secretary for management at the department.
In a statement, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki promised a comprehensive review of all department operations to “be sure that valuable taxpayer dollars are invested in programs that work for our veterans.”
Medical services — which account for more than 60 percent of the VA discretionary budget — will see a nearly $4 billion increase next year, a 13 percent jump.
Reed said with that officials are promising to ensure that 98 percent of primary care appointments are scheduled within 30 days of first request, and to add about 500,000 more Priority 8 veterans over the next five years to the list of people eligible for VA medical care.
The department will also boost funding for medical research focused on returning combat veterans ($2 billion, up 29 percent), mental health issues ($4.5 billion, up 7 percent), traumatic brain injuries ($298 million, up 16 percent) and spinal cord injuries ($497 million, up 9 percent).
The most dramatic increase, percentagewise, will be in rural health initiatives. The department will set aside $440 million to improve outreach and medical services for veterans in hard-to-reach regions, a 633 percent increase from the $60 million spent on those projects in fiscal 2009.