The Department of Veterans Affairs said congressional plans to balance the budget by 2002 would force it to close 5% of its healthcare facilities and deny healthcare to nearly 1 million veterans.
The Senate budget plan would save $15.1 billion in VA spending over seven years, partly by freezing the VA medical budget at its 1995 total of $16.2 billion. It also proposes ending all new construction projects by 1999, justifying that action by saying the number of veterans older than 65 will begin to decline.
The Senate plan proposes spending a total of $269.2 billion on the VA between 1996 and 2002.
The House proposal, meanwhile, would cut major construction outlays from $541 million in 1995 to $131 million in 2002, but it is not specific about how the medical-care budget will be treated. It also aims to increase revenues by collecting copayments from some veterans and recovering more costs from third-party payers.
Under the House proposal, total VA spending would amount to $276 billion between 1996 and 2002.
The VA contended that the Senate proposal would be disastrous for the healthcare system because by freezing its funding it will no longer have the resources to care for as many as 900,000 veterans and will be forced to close 35 of its 721 healthcare facilities.
Furthermore, the VA argued that the $3.4 billion in healthcare-related construction projects it has planned are necessary to keep pace with changes in healthcare delivery.
"This proposal is disgraceful," said VA Secretary Jesse Brown. "Under no circumstances will the veteran community and the American people support an effort to balance the budget by defaulting on our most sacred obligation, that of caring for our veterans."