Sequestration, VA cuts and the Backlog
Some things came up in our daily clips today that are worrisome.
First, this Defense News article:
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and a diverse group of more than two-dozen CEOs continued discussions of how $500 billion in cuts to military spending would impact the defense industry and DoD and potential courses of action Congress might take to avert the reductions.
The number of attendees and broad range of areas they represent — such as prime contractors, subcontractors, hardware manufacturers and service contractors — is significant, defense observers said.
“It really was representative of the entire industrial base that supports the Department of Defense,” said one source who attended the meeting.
Well, I didn't see anyone listed there who has a vested (in the true sense of the word) interest in keeping military retirement benefits stable. You have a large swath of people who represent one slice of the pie from the acquisitions side, but I don't see anyone from the other slice of the pie representing us.
Meanwhile, even outside the DoD budget there are some fears that the VA may get hit with Sequestration cuts (from Politico):
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki are set to testify on Capitol Hill on WedneWednesday about the steps they’re taking to work better together....
“Conveniently this week,” Miller pointed out, “the president declared ‘veterans’ benefits’ are exempt in a speech before a group of veterans, but his own acting OMB (Office of Management and Budget) director, Jeffrey Zients, has stated that VA may face sequestration under current law. Which is it?”
Miller said he was determined to “get an answer once and for all and assure our veterans they are still a priority to this nation.”
This isn't a new concern for The American Legion that took us by surprise, we've been addressing this issue since it first came up. Look at what we wrote back in April:
OMB also determined that VA’s exemption was unaffected by subsequent provisions in the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, which failed to include Veterans’ Medical Care in its list of VA accounts exempted from sequestration.
The letter, written by OMB Deputy General Counsel Steven D. Aitken, answers a question raised by The American Legion some time ago: Will VA be protected from sequestration, or will its budget suddenly be cut by billions of dollars?
"It appears on the face of it that this is a victory in ensuring that our nation’s veterans and the VA budget are protected," said Fang A. Wong, National Commander of The American Legion. "However, we are concerned about a reference to VA’s ‘federal administrative expenses’ that are apparently not covered in the exemption. What costs are covered in this category, and how would cuts in these affect VA’s ability to provide quality care?"
Meanwhile, Secretary Shinseki spoke at the VFW yesterday and had this to say in a Army Times article:
The rising mountain of veterans’ disability claims isn’t the sign of a dysfunctional government, but of one that has greatly expanded the number of people it is trying to help, Veterans Affairs Department secretary Eric Shinseki said Tuesday.
Appearing before the Veterans of Foreign Wars in an election-year address aimed at showing the best side of the Obama administration’s policies, Shinseki said the total inventory of veterans’ claims was 400,000 when the administration began and is about 880,000 today.
The growth, he said, “is what happens when we increase access.” While it has meant some veterans are waiting longer for their benefits to start, “it was the right thing to do,” he said
I actually agree that more people in the system is a sign of success in terms of getting the word out and such, but if we're worried about the size of the pie in the first place, adding more slices doesn't help. Enrolling more veterans is always a good thing, but wouldn't you think that since this was an earned benefit of having served honorably that the size of the pie would grow proportionally?
Hopefully we'll feel a little better after the Congressional hearing. Reassuring the VA Committee that they will be totally immune to cuts from Sequestration would go a long way towards alleviating some of the anxiety.