The things the government is pursuing include a number of areas of focus, such as Homelessness, reducing the backlog of veterans claims, the GI Bill, Mental Health Services, Rural and Women veterans, Health Care, Shrines, and the future. The veterans who have served America through the armed forces deserve the best this nation has to offer them for their service, often at the risk of their own lives, disability, and more.
The White House, with the goal of expanding health care to vast numbers of veterans, reducing the numbers of homeless veterans in America, and processing disability compensation claims, has proposed a one-hundred and twenty-five million dollar budget for the year 2011 for the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, the budget proposal provides necessary resources to continue the pursuit of the administration's two over-arching goals for veterans. He states the budget will assist in transformation of the Veterans Administration into a twenty-first century one, as well as ensuring the VA will be able to approach the care of veterans as a lifetime initiative.
The VA budget includes over sixty-billion dollars for, 'discretionary spending,' meant largely for health care, as well as more than sixty-four billion dollars aimed at mandatory funding, largely for disability compensation and pensions. Mr Shinseki states the VA's 2011 budget covers a number of areas, yet focuses on three main issues that are of main importance to veterans. The issues he is referring to include access to benefits and services, homelessness, and faster disability claims decisions.
Reduction of the VA Claims Backlog
The VA budget proposal includes an increase of four-hundred million dollars and greater than four-thousand additional people to process VA benefit claims. The increases present a twenty-seven percent increase above the levels available in the year 2010. The VA received one-million fourteen-thousand claims in 2009 and expects to receive one-million three-hundred and nineteen-thousand in the year 2011, a thirty-percent increase.
The expansion of the number of Agent Orange-related illnesses that automatically qualify for disability benefits. Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange herbicides during the war in Vietnam are most likely going to file for additional benefits which will have a significant impact upon the VA processing system. Mr Shinseki says the VA projects a significant increase in claims as the VA makes fundamental improvements in its claim processing abilities. One reason for the increase is VA's expansion of the number of Agent Orange-related illnesses that automatically qualify for disability benefits. Veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicides during the Vietnam War are likely to file additional claims that will have a substantial impact upon the processing system for benefits, the secretary said.
Automation of the GI Bill
One other portion of the VA budget includes forty-four million dollars for an automated system for processing applications for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The VA plans to begin development of electronic systems for processing claims from VA-Administered educational programs in 2011. More than one-point-seven billion dollars in regular Post-9/11 benefit payments have already been issued since the start of the program in August of 2009.
The program authorizes the most extensive educational assistance since the passage of the original GI Bill. The VA expects the number of educational claims to grow by thirty-two percent over 2009 levels to 2.25 million in the year 2011. Mr. Shinseki stated that to meet this increase in the workload and process these educational claims, the VA has begun a comprehensive strategy to create technologies to modernize the delivery of the benefits.
Elimination of Veteran Homelessness
An average night in America finds one-hundred and thirty-one thousand veterans homeless. These veterans are from every generation and war. While the VA does operate the largest system of homeless treatment and assistance in the nation, the continued homelessness of veterans is unacceptable.
The proposed budget has four-point-two billion dollars allocated for the reduction and prevention of homelessness among veterans in America. The amount includes three-point-four billion dollars for medical services, seven-hundred and ninety-nine million dollars for particular homeless programs, as well as two-hundred and ninety-four million dollars for expanded homeless initiatives. The VA Secretary's goal is to ultimately eliminate homelessness among veterans.
The VA Budget and Mental Health Services
The budget for 2011 asks for five-point-two billion dollars for mental health services. The amount represents an increase of eight-point-five percent, or four-hundred and ten million dollars more than the current level of spending on such services by the VA. The money is meant to be spent on the expansion of residential, inpatient, and outpatient mental health services, with and emphasis on mental health services that are a part of primary and specialty care. Mr. Shinseki's comment was, "The 2011 budget proposal continues the department's keen focus on improving the quality, access and value of mental health care provided to Veterans."
The VA Secretary made note of the fact that one-fifth of the veterans who visited a VA health care facility last year had a form of mental health diagnosis. The VA has added greater than six-thousand new mental health professionals since the year 2005. The VA now has nineteen-thousand employees who are dedicated to mental health care. The VA's budget will help the department to continue the expansion of programs aimed at treating traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as substance abuse, depression, and additional forms of mental health disorders.
The VA will continue it's suicide prevention program with the budget. The department's suicide prevention hotline has taken almost two-hundred and twenty-five thousand calls from veterans since July of 2007, as well as active-duty personnel and their family members. The VA suicide prevention hotline is being given credit for saving the lives of almost seven-thousand people.
Outreach to Veterans in Rural Areas
The VA wants to spend two-hundred and fifty million dollars on health care for three-point-two million veterans who are enrolled in the VA's medical system and live in rural areas. The outreach to these veterans includes the expansion of home-based primary care and mental health services to the veterans in these areas. One of the ways the VA desires to achieve this outreach is through something called, 'telehealth.' The program links both veterans and health care providers by telephone and data transmission, providing daily monitoring for veterans who experience chronic health issues. The budget presents an increase of forty-two million dollars for the telehealth program, an effort by the VA that already provides care for thirty-five thousand veterans and is actually the largest program of its type in the entire world.
Women Veterans and the VA Budget
The VA budget for 2011 asks for two-hundred and seventeen-point-six million dollars to meet the gender-specific health care requirements of women veterans. The amount represents an increase of nine-point-four percent, or eighteen-point-six million dollars, over last year's spending. The number of women veterans is increasing at a rapid rate, while women veterans are using VA health care services at an equally increasing rate. Mr. Shinseki stated that the expansion of health care services for women veterans will lead to an increase in the quality of their care, as well as the coordination of their care, a greater sense of security among women veterans, and enhanced dignity and privacy.
Other initiatives for women veterans in the VA's budget include expansion of health care services in Vet Centers, an increase in training for health care providers with the intention of increasing their understanding and knowledge of women's health issues, and the implementation of a social networking site and peer call center for women combat veterans. The call center would be open all the time, 24/7.
Delivery of World Class Health Care
The VA anticipates serving six-point-one million veterans in the year 2011. These veterans will account for greater than eighty-three million outpatient visits and eight-hundred thousand hospital stays. The veterans involved will include four-hundred and thirty-nine thousand veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq; two-point-six billion dollars is in the VA's budget for them, and increase of thirty-percent, or five-hundred and ninety-seven million dollars. Additional items in the VA's budget related to health care include:
The VA is asking for fifty-four billion dollars in appropriations for 2012 for health care services, an increase of two-point-eight billion dollars over their 2011 amount. The VA's planned initiatives in the year 2010 include leveraging acquisitions and contracting, as well as enhancing the use of referral agreements, building the VA's relationship with the Defense Department, and expansion of the use of medical technologies.
Preservation of National Shrines
The VA has asked for two-hundred and fifty-one million dollars in order to operate and maintain greater than one-hundred and fourteen-thousand interments in the year 2011. Mr. Shinseki stated the VA is committed to providing dignified and respectful burials for veterans who choose to be buried in a VA National cemetery. He said the promise requires the maintenance of these national cemeteries as shrines that are dedicated to memory of the veterans who have served America. The amount the VA desires is a three-point-eight percent increase over 2010, and will provide for the cleaning, realignment, and repair of graves as well.
Future Construction and Efforts Towards It
The VA desires one-point-one-five billion dollars to be allocated for major construction in 2011 on medical facilities in Denver, New Orleans, Alameda, Palo Alto, and Omaha. The budget is also for improvements and expansions to national cemeteries in Indiantown Gap, Tahoma, and Los Angeles. A budget of four-hundred and sixty-eight million dollars for minor construction this year would provide funding for improvements to VA facilities.