BALTIMORE — Politicians in Congress are using funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs as a way to score political points, making it a place where “the needs of veterans are secondary to ideology,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said Tuesday at a veterans convention.
Despite getting the disability claims backlog under 100,000 unprocessed claims last month and reducing wait times for veterans needing appointments, Congress has been punishing the scandal-ridden agency by cutting the president’s proposed funding, Mr. McDonald told a crowd of veterans, many of whom have served in Vietnam or Korea.
Proposed budgetary cuts could lead to 70,000 fewer veterans receiving care and funding elimination for four hospital construction projects and six new cemetery projects, he said.
He also pushed the point that while Congress has granted the VA minimal budgetary flexibility, allowing them to transfer funds to different accounts that have greater spending needs, what flexibility they have now will expire Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
“To accommodate present and future changes and demand for change, VA needs permanent flexibility to move funds among accounts,” Mr. McDonald said. “We need to move money to where the veteran goes.”
Several presidential candidates, most notably Dr. Ben Carson, has called for the VA to be privatized. Mr. McDonald had strong words for those in Washington who have suggested that, or said that the Choice Act, a program allowing veterans to seek private health care on the VA’s dime if they don’t have access to an agency clinic, should be phased out.
“Some people in Washington are questioning the need for VA. Others have attempted to squeeze the needs of veterans and a sequestered budget that artificially constrains the budget regardless of what it means for programs we’re trying to operate within the VA or across the government. All of this, lack of flexibility to give veterans a real choice, the cuts, the discussions about whether veterans actually deserve a medical system to call their own, all leads to the same place: it leads to a place where the needs of veterans are secondary to ideology,” Mr. McDonald said to a cheering crowd.
“That’s unacceptable to me,” he said. “And that should be unacceptable to anyone who claims to actually care about the sacred responsibility we as a nation have to care for those who have gone to battle.”