Sunday, March 15, 2009

VA Budget Discussed

The President’s FY 2010 budget request due at the end of April would increase the VA’s budget to almost $113 billion up more than $15 billion from last year’s budget, according to Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs appearing before both the Senate and House Committees on Veterans Affairs. He provided the Committees with some of the proposed budget request details related to veteran healthcare.

The Secretary notes that there needs to be increased funding for healthcare as the VA needs funds to treat more than 5.5 million veteran patients. The number of patients who served in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom alone will rise to over 419,000 in 2010.

According to the Secretary, the VA is emphasizing treatment for veterans with vision and spinal cord injuries and at the same time trying to meet the rising demand for prosthetics and sensory aids. The VA is collaborating with DOD to establish a DOD/VA Vision Center of Excellence to find better ways to prevent, diagnosis, treat, research, and to rehabilitate eye injuries especially if the injuries are associated with TBI.

The VA is committed to providing outreach services relating to mental health care and cognitive injuries and will dedicate increased resources to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries.

The VA is especially interested in helping veterans that are living in rural areas to receive mental health treatments. The VA is making it possible for veterans to receive appropriate mental healthcare if they are not located reasonably close to the care. Veterans are now permitted to receive care on a fee basis from a private facility. Other strategies needed to provide veterans with better healthcare in rural areas is to expand the telemental health program, Vet Centers, the use of community-based mental health centers plus expand the use of internet-based mental health services through “MyHealtheVet”.

The Secretary reports that women are becoming increasingly dependent on the VA for their healthcare. More than 450,000 women veterans have enrolled for care and this number is expected to grow by 30 percent in the next five years. The VA expects to soon have 144 full time Women Veterans Program Managers serving at VA medical facilities to act as advisors and advocates.

The FY 2010 proposed budget calls for research efforts to focus in general on TBI and polytrauma, but specifically on research studies involving blast-force related brain injuries, burn injuries, chronic pain, and to come up with new ways to advance telemedicine.

According to the Secretary, the proposed budget supports IT development for the VA’s “HealtheVet” program with both the VA and DOD working together to simplify the transition of military personnel into civilian status.

The Secretary also addressed the need for the VA to use an automated system to process claims. Currently, the VA is teaming with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command to develop the system. It is anticipated that the automated claims processing solution will be tested in 2010 and by 2012, a fully implemented electronic benefits system will be available.