In May 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs proposed a budget for Fiscal Year 2018. If the VA’s proposed budget passes without any changes, it will mark the first time that the VA requested less money for the mandatory portion of the compensation program. In essence, the Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA) is proposing substantial cuts to veterans’ compensation benefits, which would further burden some of the most disabled veterans in the country.
Here’s how the proposed budget would affect disabled veterans:
1) VA would round down the Cost of Living Adjustment for Service-Connected Compensation and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. VA estimates that this will result in $2.7 billion in savings over ten years.
2) VA would eliminate Individual Unemployability benefits for almost all veterans once they reach the minimum retirement age for Social Security purposes. These veterans would then only receive their schedular rating. VA estimates that this will result in a $40.8 billion in savings over ten years.
By eliminating Individual Unemployability, VA will actually be eliminating more than just the monthly compensation benefits for these veterans and their families. For example, any dependents of the disabled veteran who rely on CHAMPVA for healthcare coverage will lose their coverage. Likewise, they will lose access to Dependents Educational Assistance. The affected veteran would lose access to VA dental care. Depending on the state in which the veteran resides, he or she will also lose access to valuable state benefits, such as property tax exemptions and in-state educational benefits for qualifying dependents.
3) VA would no longer have to seek private medical records under its Duty to Assist if the veteran is requesting an increased rating. In these cases, the veteran would be required to acquire and submit the private records on their own.
4) VA proposes limiting the definition of “herbicide agent” to TCDD when it presently recognizes the following as herbicide agents: (1) 2,4-D; (2) 2,4,5-T; (3) TCDD; (4) picloram; and (5) cacodylic acid.
Mandatory vs. Discretionary Budget
In a separate provision, VA seeks congressional permission to use money from the mandatory Compensation and Pension fund for discretionary issues such as contracting medical professionals for compensation and pension exams, general operating expenses for VBA and Information Technology projects. All of these programs already have a line item in the budget. VA maintains there would be no cost associated with this proposal. But the problem here is that VBA would have free range to spend as much as they want to on these discretionary programs. And if they run out of money, disabled veterans lose.