On the campaign trail Trump promised to make life better for our nation’s military, through both an increase in resources and reform to the veteran care systems back home. Now, with Trump’s 2017 budget plan, the country is getting its first look at his administration’s recommended fiscal year. The president clearly wants to make good on those promises — to the tune of a $4.4 billion budget increase for the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
The new spending plan — which is basically a very public suggestion; Congress passes the actual budget — would bring the VA’s spending up to $79.9 billion, with the increase primarily dedicated to “improve patient access and timeliness of medical care” for the millions of veterans who use the system.
Currently the VA has more than 40,000 vacant health-care jobs considered exempt from the federal hiring freeze that the President enacted back in January. Secretary Shulkin has stated that the hiring of doctors and nurses has been a top priority. Not only that but the administration plans to funnel funds to the controversial Veterans Choice Program, which allows private medical visits if wait times are too long at the VA, yet is set to expire this August.
The budget surplus has been met by many with cautious optimism. “This is good news, but we saw yearly increases to the budget during Obama as well,” says Paul Rieckhoff, founder of IAVA. “The real problem at the VA is leadership and accountability.”
Joy Ilem, director for Disabled American Veterans, seems to agree with that sentiment. “We know there are a lot of issues that the VA needs to address,” she says. “They have a lot of pressure on them to turn things around, and we’re anxious to look at the full budget and how it breaks down.”
Other veterans are less excited by the president’s overall plan, which slashes budgets for the EPA, Department of Education, and State Department — every agency but the VA, Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense. “The choice between putting a better piece of equipment at a VA [hospital] and providing meals to our starving elderly is no kind of choice at all,” says Will Fischer, a Marine Corps vet who heads VoteVets.org. “Let it not be forgotten that all the federal agencies that have faced cuts are huge employers of veterans, and just about one third of the entire federal workforce.”