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During the campaign, President Barack Obama vowed that he would pass "on-time" Veterans Administration budgets because nearly every year, Congress and the president have failed to enact a VA funding bill before the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1. This year was no different.
"This delays hiring decisions and adds uncertainty to an already overstretched VA struggling to prioritize scarce resources," according to an Obama campaign position paper on veterans issues.
Congress and Obama provided a permanent fix with the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, which Obama signed into law on Oct. 22, 2009. The bill will provide more timely and predictable funding to the VA by putting its budget on a 2-year cycle. Essentially, appropriations for VA medical programs will be approved one year ahead of time. Specifically, the advance money would be for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities.
"We're here today because a problem that's gone on for far too long — the delays and uncertainty that often plague funding for veterans' health care," Obama said at the signing. "Over the past two decades, the VA budget has been late almost every year, often by months.
"At this very moment, the VA is operating without a budget, making it harder for VA medical centers and clinics to deliver the care our vets need. The hard-working folks at the VA know this. ... It's frustrating for them, and it's frustrating for our vets who pay the price when budgets are delayed: the new doctors, nurses, and critical staff that aren't hired; the new medical equipment that isn't purchased; the construction of new facilities and clinics that isn't started; the new programs for medical care that are delayed.
"This is inexcusable. It's unacceptable. It's time for it to stop. With this legislation we're fundamentally reforming how we fund health care for our veterans. With advance appropriations, veterans' medical care will be funded a year in advance. For the VA, this means timely, sufficient and predictable funding from year to year. For VA hospitals and clinics, it means more time to budget, to recruit high-quality professionals, and to invest in new health care equipment.
"And most of all, for our veterans it will mean better access to the doctors and nurses and the medical care that they need: specialized care for our wounded warriors with posttraumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, and the staffing to welcome back to the VA those half-million 'Priority 8' vets.
"In short, this is common-sense reform. It promotes accountability at the VA. It ensures oversight by Congress. It is fiscally responsible by not adding a dime to the deficit. And it ensures that veterans' health care will no longer be held hostage to the annual budget battles in Washington."
The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 provides a permanent solution to the yearly problem of Congress failing to pass a VA budget before the end of the fiscal year. That makes this one a Promise Kept.
OpenCongress.org, H.R. 1016 - Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 , accessed Oct. 12, 2009
The Hill, Violante: The soldier's voice on Capitol Hill , by Roxana Tiron, Oct. 5, 2009
White House Web site, Transcript: Remarks by the President at Signing of the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act , Oct. 22, 2009
Associated Press, "Akaka on hand for signing of new law," Oct. 22, 2009
Congressional Quarterly, House Approves Two-Year Budgeting for VA Health Programs, by Greg Vadala, Oct. 8, 2009