Patty Murray

Are Budget Cuts the Culprit Behind the V.A. Scandal?  

By Tom Kauffman, Veterans PTSD Project

Patty MurrayA few weeks ago, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in an interview that Washington’s cost-cutting culture helped spark the growing Veterans Administration hospital controversy by encouraging V.A. officials to understate their financial needs both internally and to Congress.

Murray, a top appropriator and former chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, had strong words for a department that she said not only faces chronic management issues but also consistently underestimates its funding needs and how many veterans will seek care each year:

“[It’s] an environment where everybody is told, ‘Keep the cost down. Don’t tell me anything costs more.’ It creates a culture out there for people to cook the books,” Murray said in an interview with Yahoo News[1].

Administrators learn to “hide the facts, because they don’t want to be told by their bosses, ‘Don’t tell me you need more money, because we can’t say that,’” she added.  “Well, in the V.A., if they need more money, they need to be able to tell us, because how else are we going to solve these problems,” Murray said. “So we have to change that culture and mindset.”

For the upcoming fiscal year, current Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vt., has requested an additional $1.6 billion above the Obama administration’s medical services request.

According to an April letter Sanders sent to the Senate Budget Committee, which Murray runs, the V.A. “doesn’t take into account changing factors, such as the looming reduction of forces by the Department of Defense,” which removes members of the armed services from the active duty military health care system and permits them to rely on the V.A.

But wait, Sanders and Murray aren’t alone.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, claimed late last week that more resources would solve the problems at the V.A.[2]

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, said the V.A. needs more money to effectively serve our veterans.[3]

Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, we need to get the V.A. the money they need to fix the inherent problems.[4]

Joe Violante, the legislative director for Disabled American Veterans, estimated that the V.A. has been underfunded by billions of dollars over the last decade.[5]

Based on the above information you would be lead to believe that budget cuts are to blame for the issues with veteran health care.  If funding for the V.A. has not kept up with inflation and patient growth, there might be a legitimate argument to be made.  But that’s not what happened; take a look at the chart [6]:

Whether you adjust for inflation or not, the increases for the V.A. budget have exceeded inflation and the increase in the number of patients. The dollars involved have increased from $45 billion in 2000 to $124 billion in 2012. The spending for 2013 was $139 billion, $154 billion for 2014, and the request for 2015 is $165 billion.

Hopefully, Eric Shinseki’s successor will be someone skilled in the proper allocation of funding within the healthcare environment.  The Inspector General report from 2012 found that V.A. Health Centers did not even have a system in place to determine proper staffing levels[7].  As usual, the cry that budget cuts and funding are the root causes of the V.A. failures is completely false.

Sources

[1] Sen.Murray interview Yahoo News, May 27,2014

[2] Senate floor, May 22, 2014

[3] Senate floor, May 22, 2014

[4] McCain interview, Barry Young Show KFYI radio, May 29, 2014

[5] Dave Autry, VA Calls on Congress to Strengthen VA Budget, May 15, 2014

[6]  Office of Management and Budget, Dept. of Veterans Affairs, Bureau  of Labor Statistics.

[7] VA Office of Inspector General, Report 12-00900-168, April 23, 2012, Recommendations.