VA Budget Starts Firestorm on Capitol Hill, Hits Veterans in Northumberland County, PA

Eric Shinseki resigned as head of the Department of Veterans Affairs on Friday. An increasing number of veteran advocacy groups and politicians on both sides of the aisle had been calling for Shinseki’s resignation in the midst of allegations, now proven accurate, that the VA had been cooking its books in order to cast the illusion that it has been doing a better job at taking care of America’s soldiers than it has been.

President Obama expressed outrage about allegations of misconduct at veterans hospitals. He claimed that there would be repercussions for those that helped cover up the issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs backlog and misconduct. However, other than the resignation there has been no other information released about these repercussions that are suposably to come.

As should be expected by this point, Shinseki’s departure and the ongoing VA scandal have done little to unify those on Capitol Hill. Instead, politicians on both side of the aisle have resorted to pointing fingers, claiming that one side knowingly suppressed the VA budget, thereby leading the organization into its current predicament. Of course, the other side is making the same claims. Regardless of whose fault the VA’s issues are, the federal government’s continued infighting, quite typically, is failing the people its sworn to protect — especially our men and women in uniform.

Looking at the Budget

Despite all of the political shade-throwing trying to convince people otherwise, the federal budget supporting the Department of Veterans Affairs has steadily increased since September 11, 2001. From 2009 to 2014, the budget jumped from $97.7 billion to $153.8 billion. In 2015, the budget is set to increase to $163.9 billion, marking a total increase of 68% in six years.

Unfortunately, those numbers fail to paint the full picture of the situation. Yes, it is undoubtedly true that allocations for the VA have increased, but as a recent story run in Huffington Post shows, the pace of budgetary expansion has failed to keep up with the VA’s need to treat more soldiers. In other words, budgetary growth stayed on track for what it should have been had the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan never happened. However, considering that 600,000 veterans currently sit on a waiting list for care, the realities of a woefully underfunded Department of Veterans Affairs become stark.

How the Budget Affects our Veterans

As the blame game steams ahead in Washington, D.C., it’s the veterans here at home who are truly left to deal with the fallout from the scandal concocted under former Secretary Shinseki’s watch. More than 9,300 men and women who have served in the armed forces live in Northumberland County. Like their comrades in arms, these men and women are left to wait an average of 27 days — an estimate many believe could be extremely conservative — before they receive the care they need to carry on with a happy life.

In many cases, veterans die before they ever get the chance to see a doctor. Take Pedro Valdez, a Vietnam veteran in Phoenix, Arizona — the epicenter of the VA’s current scandal — for example: after a year and a half of trying to get an appointment to address his failing health, he died, leaving behind a confused and angry family. 40 men and women in total are thought to have died because of the systemic abuses at the Phoenix VA. Unfortunately, an ongoing investigation into the extent of corruption and abuse within the VA system is revealing that Phoenix isn’t the only area in the country with this problem. Even so, the only thing getting bipartisan support on Capitol Hill is polarized infighting. Meanwhile, the men and women who sacrificed to support our country — people with husbands and wives, children and friends– continue to wait, many of them for just a little too long.

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