A House panel will hear testimony Wednesday from Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald following his agency's warnings that VA hospitals could be shut down next month because of a $2.5 billion budget shortfall.
Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson has said hiring freezes and furloughs also could result from the unmet needs of the VA's Care in the Community program, which allows veterans to access outside medical care. That program is expected to cost $10.1 billion in fiscal 2015, a 24% increase from the previous year, Gibson said at a hearing last month.
He acknowledged poor budget management but also blamed the shortfall on high prescription drug costs and an increase in veteran's demand for health services.
Lawmakers in both parties have criticized the VA for not bringing up the budget problem until late in the fiscal year.
In an opening statement of the hearing last month, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, said the VA's “current problems reflect a management issue far more than they represent a money issue.”
The VA would like to shift $3 billion from its Veterans Choice Program to the Care in the Community Program. The Veterans Choice Program allows veterans to see doctors outside of the VA system when wait times are too long or the travel distance would be excessive.