Changes to VA Benefits in VA Budget for 2016
Last month President Obama announced a proposed $168.8 billion budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2016, representing a 7.5 percent increase in discretionary spending. Among many other veterans benefits, the additional funding will focus on electronic medical records and other technology improvements, mental health treatments, medical and prosthetic research, long-term care and telehealth. Here are a few highlights of the proposed budget.
Improved Health Care
A large portion of the VA budget, $63.2 billion, will focus on improving the medical care provided to veterans, including $446 million for improved women’s services alone. The main categories that will receive additional funding are mental health, prosthetics, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, readjustment counseling and long-term care. The Department of Defense refers to traumatic brain injury as one of the signature injuries of troops wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, a study recently published in JAMA Psychiatry found the rate of mental illness among soldiers to be much higher than civilians. In fact, 25 percent of the 5,500 soldiers surveyed tested positive for at least one mental disorder, and 11 percent of those had more than one mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma. Clearly, both physical and mental health issues are a priority.
The budget also includes funding through the Veterans Choice Act. This legislation provides funding to hire more staff and physicians to handle the medical needs of veterans. Additionally, it allows for $10 billion in funding that establishes The Veterans Choice Program, an initiative that allows eligible veterans to use health care providers outside the VA system if wait-time or distance prevents them from receiving timely care.
A huge complaint among veterans is simply getting an answer or finding information about their benefits. The VA is increasing access to health care in numerous ways. $4.1 billion will be solely dedicated to information technology, including improving infrastructure, modernizing electronic health records and providing improved online access to benefit information. $86.6 million is earmarked to improve the online application process and provide more call center agents. Another $1.2 billion will support telehealth funding, a program specifically for veterans in rural or remote locations. Over $1.6 billion will support new construction projects and enhanced health care facilities.
Burial and Memorial Benefits
Sadly, a large part of the VA’s responsibilities include taking care of the memorial and burial services of our veterans. The new budget contains $266.2 million for the National Cemetery Administration (NCA). In addition to maintaining existing military cemeteries, the funding will allow for two new national cemeteries in 2015, in Cape Canaveral and Tallahassee, Florida, and a third in 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. The NCA maintains 3.6 million gravesites and estimates handling more than 129,000 interments each year.
Veteran homelessness is a huge priority of this budget. A total of $1.4 billion will support programs to prevent homelessness among the veteran population. This includes supportive services, such as HUD’s housing voucher program, and $201 million in grants will go to community organizations that provide temporary housing for homeless veterans.
The VA is one of the largest health care systems in the U.S., with 9.4 million enrollees. Services include health insurance, life insurance, disability compensation, pensions and survivor benefits to another 5.2 million beneficiaries, education assistance, vocational rehabilitation, mortgage guaranties, burial benefits and numerous other areas of assistance. However, it’s estimated that 25 million veterans actually quality for benefits. That’s a huge gap between those that quality and those that are receiving. Many, especially the elderly, are not aware of the many benefits available, including long-term care, home health care, assisted living and nursing home costs. The Elder Care Firm is accredited by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Let our professionals ensure you are getting the benefits you deserve. Contact us for a consultation.