February 27, 2020

Chairman Takano on VA’s 2021 Budget Request

Washington, D.C. —Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) delivered opening remarks before the full committee oversight hearing entitled, “U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2021.”   A link to the video Chairman Takano’s opening statement and remarks as prepared can be found below.

 

Full video of the Chairman’s remarks

Chairman Takano’s remarks as prepared:

Thank you Secretary Wilkie and your team for coming in to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs budget request for Fiscal Year 2021. I also want to welcome our VSO partners and look forward to hearing their views on our second panel.

Despite a requested 12% increase for VA’s budget, I am deeply concerned this request ignores a much worse reality - this budget could lead to less food on the plates of struggling veteran families, no new housing vouchers for homeless veterans, and millions of veterans cut off from key support programs.

  • This 12% increase comes at expense of significant cuts to critical domestic programs that veterans - especially those in crisis- depend on.
  • 1.7 million veterans rely on Medicaid, but the President's budget would cut Medicaid by $900 billion over the next 10 years.
  • More than half of all veterans, approximately 9.3 million, rely on Medicare, but the President's budget would cut Medicare by $500 billion over the next 10 years.
  • Over 600,000 disabled veterans receive Social Security Disability Insurance a year, but the President's budget would cut Social Security benefits by at least $24 billion.  
  • Nearly 1.3 million veterans live in households that participate in SNAP, but the President's budget would cut SNAP by $182 billion over 10 years.
  • As of January 2019, there are 37,085 homeless veterans, and HUD's rental assistance program would be cut by $3.5 billion.

Additionally, the president proposed we slash almost $700 million from the Centers for Disease Control 2021 budget—the very agency on the frontlines of the Coronavirus response. Meanwhile, the CDC warned this week that there will likely be an outbreak of the Coronavirus in the United States. The president requested a separate supplemental in response, but it is wholly inadequate and would actually raid the funds set aside for other life-threatening public health emergencies like Ebola. As the nation responds to the Coronavirus outbreak, we cannot forget our veterans. They will not be immune to this virus—and under VA’s fourth mission, it is our responsibility to ensure VA is prepared.

While I’m pleased that this budget places significant investments in mental health care for veterans-- a top priority for this Committee, VA, and the president -- I am alarmed that resources are directed outside VA into grant programs and the PREVENTS Task Force instead of being used to explicitly support veterans in crisis. As demand for VA mental health services continues to grow, we need to ensure VA programs are fully funded before this money is directed elsewhere.

As I emphasized in my remarks yesterday during the VSO hearing, I have made reducing veteran suicide my number one priority. That’s why the Committee adopted a comprehensive, evidence-based framework to address the crisis of veteran suicide from every angle. Our approach takes into account multiple factors that could reduce veteran suicide -- everything from lowering economic burdens to increasing access to care and improving crisis intervention for those at higher risk.

While funding is increased to reduce veteran homelessness- a factor that may lead to suicide- HUD faces significant cuts itself and for the fourth straight year, HUD has zeroed out new HUD-VASH vouchers. I can tell you from experience representing my constituents in Riverside that these vouchers are essential to ending homelessness. This program is a partnership between VA and HUD. HUD provides the housing assistance and VA provides the key wraparound services. It does no good to only fund the VA services side of this partnership. Veterans need housing—provided by these HUD vouchers—for this program to reduce veteran homelessness. Both VA and HUD need to be fully funded.

VA also increased its budget for gender-specific women veterans’ healthcare by nine percent, but its funding for hiring and training the clinicians and staff who run the women’s health program is far below what is needed according to the Independent Budget. The chronic under-resourcing of women’s health at VA is an indication of the greater cultural issue of fully valuing women veterans—and if we want to have an honest conversation about suicide prevention, we need to address the culture of sexual violence against women at VA. Currently, VA does not even require mandatory bystander intervention training for all employees, contractors, vendors, and volunteers.

When Congress passed the MISSION Act in June of 2018, tens of thousands of pre-9/11 veterans and their caregivers won a hard-fought battle for equality with their post 9/11 counterparts—a battle that took nearly a decade. However, VA’s inability to meet congressionally mandated timelines has prevented these veterans and their families from accessing these services.

The budget requests $1.19 billion for 2021, which is a $485 million increase over last year’s funding levels for the program. However, to date, VA has not released the regulations outlining changes to the caregiver program that were authorized by the MISSION Act. Without finalized regulations published, it is unclear how accurate VA’s budget request for this program is—potentially further breaking an already broken promise.

The budget also requests additional employees to help with Blue Water Navy claims processing but ignores funding for claims and treatment for other herbicide exposed veterans despite extensive and credible evidence that their conditions are related to Agent Orange exposure. I sent a letter to President Trump with 77 of my House colleagues to ensure four diseases were added to the presumptions list. Senate Democrats and VSO leaders have called for the same inclusion, but there has been NO response from the administration. I was disappointed to see that the Secretary didn’t even address this injustice in his prepared remarks.  That and the fact that this budget does not request ANY funding for these additional diseases signals that this administration is not making progress on this matter. These veterans have already waited far too long.

Despite all of these increases, the president’s budget would hurt veterans by slashing programs that ensure essential needs are met. When you consider it in its entirety, this budget is a cruel document that cuts housing, food security, healthcare, and key assistance that millions of veterans depend on. Instead, we must work together to ensure we can keep the promises we’ve made to our veterans—and ensure our budget reflects those.

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