Without congressional approval of the full budget for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there will be another crisis in veterans' health care, according to VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald.
lambasted a House subcommittee for cutting $1.4 billion from his
proposed 2016 budget, saying it would prompt another crisis as the
future needs of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
swell the numbers seeking health care at the VA.
"That effect has
not yet been felt," he said, speaking at the annual conference of the
Association of Health Care Journalists last week.
McDonald said the aging of Vietnam veterans caused the 2014 crisis that led to the former Procter & Gamble
CEO's appointment to lead the troubled agency. In the past 40 years, he
noted, the number of veterans older than 65 has more than quadrupled,
rising from 2.2 million in 1975 to a projected 10 million by next year.
predicted that the congressional cuts from his requested $168.8 billion
budget would eliminate care to 70,000 veterans, foil the building of an
outpatient clinic and halt cemetery expansions.
"You either give the budget or cut the benefits," he said. "This is what we need to meet the demand."
Last week, the House approved a 5.6 percent increase
for 2016, including $76.6 billion in discretionary funding, an increase
of $4.6 billion. McDonald had requested a 7.5 percent increase. The bill
now goes to the Senate.
McDonald described the VA as the largest
health care system in the country, one of vital importance to the
country for the innovations it provides in medical care.
said its research, education and clinical care have earned three Nobel
prizes and are responsible for the nicotine patch, liver transplants,
prosthetics controlled by brain waves, bar codes on patient bracelets
and open source electronic health records, among other innovations. He
noted that 70 percent of all U.S. doctors receive training through the
VA system, which is the country's largest employer of nurses.
pointed to several challenges faced by the VA health system, including
an influx of patients affected by Agent Orange; the number of veterans
with catastrophic injuries from a 10-fold increase in battlefield
survival; greater recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder and its
symptoms, often exacerbated by aging; the increase in the number of
women requiring services; and a shortage of both clinical space and
He said 20 percent of veterans care took place in the
community even before last year's passage of the Veterans Choice Act.
The act, implemented in late 2014, allows those with more than a 30-day
wait or living beyond a 40-mile radius from a VA facility the option to
seek care in the community.
In his nine months at the helm,
McDonald said, the VA has opened 93 buildings and 1.4 million square
feet of space and hired 11,000 new medical employees.
the VA's efforts to "change the culture from Kremlin-esque," noting that
it publishes its data every two weeks. He also announced the formation
of an 11-member Special Medical Advisory Group to help improve the
delivery of medical care. And he noted that within weeks there would be
an announcement regarding care for the crews — mostly National Guard
reservists — of C-123s who were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.