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By Sean Gorman June 4, 2012

Sen. Jim Webb says spending on veterans has grown dramatically since 1980

Sen. Jim Webb said funding for veterans services is much higher now than three decades ago.

"The president’s budget request for FY2013 veterans spending is $140 billion -- more than double the amount in constant dollars appropriated in 1980, when the veterans population was larger by a third," Webb, D-Va., said in a May 14 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Webb, who served as secretary of the navy under President Ronald Reagan, was referring to funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which provides health care and pensions to honorably-discharged service members who have been wounded or suffered illnesses in times of war.

Heather Fluit, a spokeswoman for Webb, said the senator got his data from a query to the Congressional Research Service, which provides non-partisan analysis of issues for Congress.

We checked whether Webb was right about the increase in funding and whether the number of veterans is indeed lower today than three decades ago.

Let’s start with the budget numbers. Webb claims the president’s 2013 spending request is more double the amount in 1980 after the figures are adjusted for inflation.

President Barack Obama proposed a $140.3 billion budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Josephine Schuda, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, told us Congress appropriated $20.6 billion to the agency in fiscal 1980.

We adjusted that for inflation using the Consumer Price Index calculator on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. The appropriation in 1980 comes to $57.5 billion in modern-day dollars.

So Webb is right; the $140 billion request is more than double the amount appropriated in 1980, even after adjusting for inflation.

Now, let’s look at how the size of the veterans population three decades ago compares to today.

Schuda said that in 1980, there were 30.1 million veterans. The most recent VA numbers show there were 22.2 million veterans in September 2011.

That means the number of veterans in 1980 was about one-third larger than today’s veterans population. So Webb is right on this score, too.

Why were there more veterans in the 1980s than today? Joe Davis, director of public affairs at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said a big contributor is that there were more surviving World War II veterans back in 1980 than today.

Tim Tetz, legislative director for the American legion, said a key reason VA funding has increased is that Congress in 1996 expanded the number veterans eligible to receive health care from the agency.

The VA budget has significantly expanded over the last 10 years under Obama as well as former President George W. Bush.  

There are 5.5 million patients in the VA health care system today. In 1980, there was only a fraction of the amount, Tetz said.

Our ruling

Webb said the president’s $140 billion request for veterans services is more than double what it was in 1980, when the veterans population was a third larger than today.

He’s right. We point out that major increases to the VA occurred in the last decade under the Bush and Obama administrations.

That said, we rate the senator’s statement True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources, "Are we doing enough for our veterans? A Q&A with Jim Webb," May 14, 2012.

Interview with Heather Fluit, spokeswoman for Sen. Jim Webb, May 15, 2012.

Interviews with Joe Davis, director of public affairs for Veterans of Foreign Wars, May 23 and May 31, 2012.

Interview with Tim Tetz, legislative director for the American Legion, May 23, 2012.

E-mail from Josephine Schuda, spokeswoman, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, May 21, 2012.

Department of Veterans Affairs, "VA budget request tops $140 billion for veterans programs," Feb. 13, 2012.

Department of Veterans Affairs, "Women veterans population," November, 2011.

Department of Veterans Affairs, "Veteran population projections: FY 2000 to FY2036," December 10, 2012.

Congressional Research Service, "Veterans Affairs: hstorical budget authority, Fiscal year 1940 through 2007," June 13, 1008.

Congressional Research Service, "Veterans health care issues in the 109th Congress," October 26, 2006.

American Legion, "Fiscal year 2013 VA budget," March 1, 2012.

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