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Honoring the nation’s commitment to care for the newest generation of combat veterans and service members from other conflicts and eras, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake announced today President Bush is seeking a budget of $93.7 billion in fiscal year 2009 for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with health care and disability compensation for veterans targeted for most of the spending.
The President’s 2009 request includes total budgetary resources of $41.2 billion for VA medical care, an increase of $2.3 billion over the 2008 budget. VA’s total medical care request is comprised of funding for medical services ($34.08 billion), medical facilities ($4.66 billion), and resources from medical care collections ($2.47 billion).
The budget will provide resources to treat nearly 5.8 million patients, including about 3.9 million veterans who are VA’s highest priority patients—veterans returning from service in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), veterans with service-connected disabilities, those with lower incomes, and veterans with special health care needs.
VA will treat about 333,000 OIF/OEF veterans in 2009, a 14 percent increase over the estimated 2008 figure. Medical care funding for these patients will climb to nearly $1.3 billion in 2009, or 21 percent more than in 2008.
The budget will provide resources for VA to virtually eliminate the patient waiting list by the end of 2009.
VA will be able to continue to provide timely, accessible, and high-quality health care that sets the national standard of excellence for the health care industry. For the 8th consecutive year, customer satisfaction with VA’s health care system in 2007 was higher than the private sector. Patients at VA medical centers recorded a satisfaction level of 83 out of possible 100 points, or 6 points higher than the private-sector health care industry.
Resources for mental health care will reach $3.9 billion in 2009. This is $319 million (or 9 percent) above the 2008 level and will strengthen efforts to ensure VA provides equitable access throughout the nation for veterans with mental health disorders.
VA is requesting $762 million in 2009 for non-institutional long-term care, an increase of 28 percent over 2008. This will allow veterans to receive extended care services in the most clinically appropriate setting and in the comfort and familiar settings of their homes. The number of patients receiving this type of care, as measured by the average daily census, is expected to reach 61,000, or 38 percent higher than the estimated level for 2008.
Resources in 2009 for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA (CHAMPVA) will total just over $1 billion. CHAMPVA allows VA to provide health benefits for the dependents and survivors of veterans who are, or were at time of death, 100 percent permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected disability, or who died from a service-connected condition.
VA’s medical care request includes nearly $1.5 billion to support the increasing workload associated with the purchase and repair of prosthetics and sensory aids to improve veterans’ quality of life, including those returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is 10 percent above the funding level in 2008.
VA’s 2009 budget includes $83 million (or 19 percent more than in 2008) for facility activations where needed to purchase equipment and supplies for newly constructed and leased buildings as VA completes projects from the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) program.
The budget also provides funding for investments in VA’s capital infrastructure including the continued development of new hospitals in Orlando, Fla. ($120 million) and Denver ($20 million), and beginning three new projects to enhance mental health and polytrauma care at the Palo Alto, Calif. ($38 million), Bay Pines, Fla. ($17 million) and Tampa, Fla. ($21 million) medical centers.
The Department will expand its telehealth program which is a critical component to improve access to health care for veterans living in rural and remote areas.
VA is requesting $442 million to support the medical and prosthetic research program, which would fund nearly 2,000 high-priority research projects expanding knowledge in areas critical to veterans’ health care needs, most notably research in mental illness ($53 million), aging ($45 million), health services delivery improvement ($39 million), cancer ($37 million), and heart disease ($33 million).
One of VA’s highest priorities in 2009 will be to continue an aggressive research program to improve the lives of veterans returning from service in OIF and OEF. The 2009 budget provides $252 million devoted to research projects focused specifically on veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Disability compensation payments will be made to 234,000 more service-disabled veterans and their survivors in 2009 than were made in 2007. Total disability compensation payments will increase by $6 billion.
Vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits for service-disabled veterans will increase by $14 million in 2009.
Resources requested in the budget will allow VA to improve the timeliness with which compensation and pension claims are processed -- average days to process these claims will be 145 days, a 21 percent improvement in timeliness over 2007. The number of claims processed will grow to over 940,000, an increase of 14 percent from 2007.
The number of pending claims for compensation and pension benefits will fall to 298,000 by the end of 2009, or 24 percent below 2007.
Timeliness will improve for original education claims from 32 days in 2007 to 19 days in 2009. The time it takes to process supplemental education claims will also improve, from 13 days in 2007 to 10 days in 2009.
In 2009, VA and the Department of Defense will complete the pilot of a new disability evaluation system for wounded warriors at major medical facilities in the Washington, D.C., area. This initiative is designed to eliminate the duplicative and often confusing elements of the current disability process of the two departments. The pilot will include one medical examination according to VA protocols and a single disability rating determined by VA.
The budget proposal includes $35.9 million to provide specially adapted housing grants to severely disabled veterans and service members, providing a barrier-free living environment that affords them a level of independent living they may not otherwise enjoy.
The President’s 2009 budget request for VA includes $181 million in operations and maintenance funding for the National Cemetery Administration, which is 71 percent above the resources available to the department’s memorial affairs program when the President took office.
Resources are included in the 2009 budget request to allow VA to continue daily operations and to begin interment activities at six new national cemeteries -- Bakersfield, Calif.; Birmingham, Ala.; Columbia-Greenville, S.C.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Sarasota, Fla.; and southeastern Pennsylvania.
Major construction funding of $105 million will support the Department’s burial program in 2009, including resources for gravesite expansion and cemetery improvement projects at three national cemeteries -- New York (Calverton, $29 million); Massachusetts ($20.5 million); and Puerto Rico ($33.9 million).
VA will expand access to its burial program by increasing the percent of veterans served by a national or state veterans cemetery within 75 miles of their residence to 88 percent in 2009. That’s a 4.6 percentage point increase above the performance level at the close of 2007.
VA expects to perform 111,000 interments in 2009 – 11 percent more than the interments performed in 2007.
VA will continue to increase the percent of respondents who rate the quality of service provided by national cemeteries as excellent to 98 percent in 2009 – 4 percentage points higher than the level of performance reached in 2007.
The President’s 2009 budget provides more than $2.4 billion for the Department’s IT program. This is $389 million (19 percent) above the 2008 budget, and reflects the realignment of all IT operations and functions under the control of the Chief Information Officer.
The IT consolidation has given VA the opportunity to look at all aspects of the “State of VA IT” and to support efforts to provide improved, standardized IT services, leading to consistency and dependability across the Department. In some cases, this will involve shoring up areas which have suffered from neglect in the past.
IT is critical to the timely, accessible delivery of high-quality benefits and services to veterans and their families. It is vital that VA receives a significant infusion of new resources to implement new systems and upgrades to existing systems , which have a direct impact on the medical care of veterans, the quality and safety of that care, and the underpinning IT infrastructure that makes health care delivery possible.
The 2009 budget request contains $93 million in support of the Department’s cyber security program to continue the commitment to make VA the gold standard in data security within the Federal government.
VA is seeking $284 million in 2009 for development and implementation of the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (HealtheVet-VistA) program. This includes a health data repository, a patient scheduling system, and a reengineered pharmacy application. These applications are directly tied to programs which are intended to enhance or replace existing programs already serving patients.
The budget proposal includes $23.8 million in 2009 to complete the transition of compensation and pension payment processing from the current system to VETsNET, enhancing claims processing efficiency and accuracy, strengthening payment integrity and fraud prevention, and positioning VA to develop future claims processing efficiencies via our Paperless Claim Processing Initiative; an important component of the recommendations presented in the Dole-Shalala Commission report to support the nation’s wounded warriors.