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VA yet to endorse shutdown protection bill

Oct. 29, 2013 - 04:59PM   |  
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The nation’s most influential veterans’ groups and key supporters in Congress will launch an effort on Wednesday to keep the Veterans Affairs Department operating when other federal agencies are shut down.

But it remains unclear whether VA supports the effort, a response to the 17-day partial government shutdown in October that led to furloughs of some VA workers, suspended some programs and threatened benefits.

The initiative provides funding one year in advance for all veterans programs — something already done for health care programs — so the failure of Congress to pass and the president to sign an appropriations bill by the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year wouldn’t require immediate cuts in veterans programs.

This wouldn’t stop every potential problem, such as what might happen if the entire government simply runs out of cash to pay benefits. It also isn’t guaranteed to pass, despite backing the the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees and support from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Military Officers Association of America.

The bill doesn’t protect against problems with federal borrowing power, a crisis now postponed until early February, that could result in the U.S. Treasury not having enough cash to pay all of its bills, including military and veterans’ compensation.

And passage of the measure is dependent upon support from congressional leaders and appropriators, who might see value in a budgetary standoff in having veterans’ programs at risk.

One key player yet to weigh in on the proposal is VA itself.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed a version of advance VA funding on August 1. The Putting Veterans’ Funding First Act of 2013 would provide full VA funding one year in advance, beginning with the fiscal 2015 budget.

VA was asked for its views before the committee vote, but never indicated whether it supported the bill, opposed it or had any suggested changes.

VA officials also have not responded to media inquiries in advance of Wednesday’s news conference about whether it now supports the measure.

At least some VA officials like the idea. In August, after the House committee vote, two VA representatives attending a Disabled American Veterans conference in Florida said they supported advance funding for veterans benefits.

“Absolutely, it would be a good thing,” said Danny Pummel, a Veterans Benefits Administration executive.

Also supportive was Dr. Robert Petzel, VA’s undersecretary for health, who told the DAV that advance funding of medical programs has “been a very positive thing” and that he supported its expansion.

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