BYRNES: Veterans Need More Healthcare Options, Not Lies About The VA Budget

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

John Byrnes Contributor
Font Size:

We’ve recently seen a disturbing trend in strategy to pass an egregious spending bill or oppose more responsible options: fear-monger and mislead about veterans’ health care.

Democrats in particular have shown they are more than willing to stoke fear in the hearts and minds of veterans who have unique health care challenges and needs, all to achieve the legislative outcomes Democrats want. They’ve held veterans hostage to their flagrant abuse of taxpayer dollars and unsound economic policy, and the media has allowed them to punish anyone who wants to hit the pause button or have a rational spending conversation.

And now we’re seeing it again.

Last week, House Republicans passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act in an attempt to lay down a marker and manage the conversation on the upcoming debt ceiling negotiations. The House bill has no chance of passing the Senate or being signed into law. Nonetheless, the White House itself published outrageous and untrue claims about how the bill would affect veterans’ health care at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The White House, and allies including House Veterans Affairs Committee Ranking Member Mark Takano, Rep. Mikie Sherrill and others are echoing the claims from the VA that the plan would result in 30 million fewer VA outpatient visits and cost 81,000 VA employees their jobs. These figures are alarming, but there’s one problem—nowhere in the Limit, Save, Grow Act does language direct Congress to cut the VA’s budget.

Instead, the bill caps overall discretionary spending—the portion of the budget Congress can readily alter each year—at the same levels as Fiscal Year 2022, apart from defense. Over the next 10 years, the bill allows for a 1% spending increase. Democrats’ numbers come from the assumption that Congress will cut every program to 2022 levels individually, even though the bill allows Congress to prioritize how it will reach the discretionary targets. Republican leaders have already said they will not send a bill to President Biden’s desk that cuts veteran’s care.

The VA is the second largest cabinet-level agency, with a budget that has more than quintupled in the last two decades. In 2002, the budget was roughly $50 billion, and in 2022, the budget was $274 billion. In 2023 the VA budget is over $300 billion – more than a 10% increase over 2022. One third of that total, $128 billion, goes to the Veterans Health Administration.

Meanwhile, the veteran population is declining. This suggests the problem is not one of funding, but rather one of administration. The focus of the VA seems to be on the bureaucracy rather than the veterans it serves. This needs to change. Instead of debating how much funding the VA gets, we need to be debating how the VA is spending the funding it has and whether or not those funds are actually helping veterans. The VA employs around 400,000 staff, more than 90% of whom work at the VHA, and most are union members.

As with teachers’ unions and students, government-sector unions conflate what is good for their members with what is good for veterans, and they wield political leverage over elected Democrats. Thus, Congress struggles to reform the VA while falling victim to whatever narrative the self-interested players want to spread.

Now Democrats and their allies are using Americans’ deep respect for veterans and our sense of responsibility for their care to protect a progressive wish list of spending and a host of government-sector union jobs while pretending to improve what is, in reality, worsening health care for veterans.

The VA’s enormous budget is hostage to unions, and to progressive narratives in the media. Meanwhile, delayed care harms and sometimes kills veterans in every community in America.

What veterans need is reform at the VA and options for care outside of it, not lip service and blatant lies about the budget and services.

Concerned Veterans for America has fought that battle for the last 10 years, supporting the Veterans Choice Act in 2014 and the VA MISSION Act in 2018. These laws provided veterans with more health care choice and strengthened VA by allowing it to focus on the services it best provides.

We’re continuing the fight to build off that success by supporting Sens. Jerry Moran and Kyrsten Sinema’s Veterans’ HEALTH Act, Sen. Marsha Blackburn and Rep. Andy Biggs’ Veterans Health Care Freedom Act, and Rep. Greg Steube’s Veterans True Choice Act, all of which would expand access to care, hold the VA accountable for providing care, and ensure the promise to care for veterans is kept.

Reform is a battle we can win. These bills, not more reckless spending in the name of veterans, can actually deliver better health outcomes for those who served.

John Byrnes is deputy director of Concerned Veterans for America and a veteran of the United States Marine Corps and Army National Guard who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.