House appropriators on Thursday backed the White House plan for a Department of Veterans Affairs budget of more than $300 billion in fiscal 2023, but with more transparency as to how medical costs are driving up that total annually.
Members of the House Appropriations Committee approved the spending plan by a party-line vote of 32-26. The measure also includes $15.1 billion for military construction projects, $2.9 billion above President Joe Biden’s budget request.
“Our veterans, servicemembers, and their families have made immense sacrifices to protect and serve our nation, and it is our duty to make sure they have the support they need and deserve,” Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement.
“This critical legislation builds on our commitment to our veterans with targeted funding to enhance mental health care, suicide prevention, and substance use disorder programs, advance women’s health and whole health initiatives, and provide homelessness assistance to our veterans most in need.”
The measure also separates VA medical care spending into its own budget category, apart from other defense and non-defense discretionary spending. The move has been requested by Veterans Affairs officials.
“The way it helps is that you can see tangibly the escalating cost of VA health care, which helps us consider those expenses more specifically and clearly,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the committee’s panel on veterans issues.
“We’re getting a significant rise in VA medical care costs and that’s expected to continue to go up exponentially. So we’re making sure that we can find a way to address the rising costs of the VA funding without it eclipsing all of the other funding for discretionary programs across all the [federal appropriations] bills.”
The VA budget proposal — the largest in department history — has nearly $119 billion for veterans medical care in fiscal 2023, up 22% from current year levels.
That includes $13.9 billion for mental health care (up 6% from this year), $911 million for gender specific health care programs (up 8%) and $183 million for substance abuse disorder programs (up 17%).
Homeless assistance programs would be boosted to $2.7 billion, up 24% from current year levels.
The full House chamber will likely vote on the spending plan next month, but the fate of the appropriations bill is uncertain after that. Senate appropriators have not yet released their plans for the VA or military construction budgets yet.
The two chambers hope to agree on a compromise spending plan before the start of the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.