Bost Delivers Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing to Assess VA’s Budget Request for FY 2022
Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, at the start of the Committee’s hearing to assess the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) budget request for fiscal year 2022:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to welcome Secretary McDonough and all of our witnesses.
Any way you look at it, the V.A. budget has doubled over the past decade.
We have never asked V.A. to do more with less.
V.A’s biggest budget increases have come in the last two years.
The CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan added tens of billions of dollars to the largest regular appropriation V.A. has ever received.
The time has come to ask when V.A. will be adequately funded.
Congress must always prioritize veterans.
But there is a natural limit to how big any budget can be.
Regardless of our political beliefs, I think we are all concerned about the national debt outgrowing our economy.
V.A. has requested a 10 percent increase next year.
If that rate of growth continues, the V.A. budget will be $574 billion in 2030.
The problem is the number of veterans using V.A. services is not going up by 10 percent.
The number of veterans receiving disability compensation or pension benefits is only going up by 4.3 percent.
The number of veterans receiving V.A. health care is only going up by 1.3 percent.
It is true that those veterans are seeking more care.
But the number of outpatient visits is only going up by 3.7 percent.
V.A. forecasts the number of veterans enrolled in V.A. will actually go down.
I am not suggesting cutting V.A.
But the budget growth has to be more in line with demand.
V.A. has made a lot of progress in expanding access, increasing quality, and improving customer service.
The substantial budget increases of the past several years enabled that.
Without a doubt, there is more to be done.
But we need to better understand what success looks like, and how much achieving it may cost.
I am concerned about V.A. using one-time dollars in the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan to create permanent expenses.
I am also concerned that V.A.’s budget seems to reduce infrastructure spending, only to then plus it up in the American Jobs Plan.
Funding maintenance is important.
We should take care of it now through the regular budget process.
That is not to mention the elephant in the room, Mr. Secretary – toxic exposure.
Supporting toxic-exposed veterans is one of my priorities.
I know it is for you, the Chairman, the Senate, and V.S.O.s as well.
Several toxic exposure bills have been introduced – including mine, the TEAM Act.
Preliminary cost estimates for those bills range as high as $1.5 trillion.
For comparison, the President has proposed a $6 trillion budget for the entire Federal government.
Potential bill costs of that magnitude are unheard of in V.A.
They raise serious questions about our ability to pay for this legislation.
They also raise questions about V.A.’s ability to implement it – and to do so without compromising services for other veterans.
We need a fiscally responsible approach.
Mr. Secretary, I have asked you and your staff multiple times – verbally and in writing – to engage with Congress on this issue.
We still do not have any in-depth insight from the Administration or V.A. on toxic exposure legislation.
I am asking you again now to be our partner.
This is the single biggest budget issue we are facing in this committee.
Veterans are counting on us to get it right.
The Administration’s absence from this discussion does not help anyone.
I hope we can have a frank discussion today about how to provide care and benefits for toxic-exposed veterans without breaking the bank or crippling the Department.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back.