WASHINGTON — Tired of emergency funding requests from Veterans Affairs officials, a bipartisan group of senators is pushing new legislation mandating new outside oversight of the department to spur better budgeting practices.
“Over the past several months, we’ve seen the VA lurch from funding crisis to funding crisis because of its inability to effectively manage its budget,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. and one of the proposal’s sponsors.
“Our veterans deserve to have certainty that their access to quality care in the community through the Veterans Choice program will continue uninterrupted. Our legislation would require the VA to responsibly and accurately manage its budget to eliminate future funding crises and give veterans the confidence in their care they deserve.”
The move comes just days before congressional lawmakers and VA officials are expected to unveil plans to overhaul the department’s community care programs, which allow veterans to receive medical care from private-sector physicians with federal dollars.
That plan could become the third major piece of legislation passed by Congress this year related to the VA Choice program, created in 2014 to help alleviate medical wait time problems within the Veterans Health Administration.
But multiple times since then, lawmakers have had to intervene with funding changes — including a $2.1 billion boost in August — because of problems with estimating spending and usage rates with the program.
The new legislation would require a third-party review of all VA financial processes, including those spending rates. It would also mandate that any VA funding requests be addressed at least 45 days before a program’s funding is set to run out.
“The VA’s inability to provide Congress with an accurate budget is hurting veterans and taxpayers across this nation,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a statement about the new proposal.
“We can’t keep throwing money at the VA without more accountability over their budget and spending practices. This bill will give us more confidence in the VA’s ability to budget in a way that ensures veterans are getting the very best care.”
McCain said without the new oversight, “our effort in Congress to develop a plan for consolidating veterans health care in the community will continue to face difficulty.”
The proposal is also supported by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Republican House lawmakers met with veterans groups last week to discuss plans for the upcoming community care program changes. VA officials have warned that Congress must act on an extension of the Choice program before the end of the year or risk disrupting care for thousands of veterans.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.