The U.S. House of Representatives departs for a 5-week recess after July 31, leaving VA with less than 2 weeks to render a solution to fill the fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget gap before some of its hospital operations are subsequently forced to shut down in August.
VA believes the solution to its problems lies in the Veterans Choice Fund appropriated from the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014. On July 13, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson submitted a request to Congress seeking a transfer of funds from the Choice Program to “continue VA’s efforts to increase veterans’ access to care and life-saving pharmaceuticals.”
Within the draft legislation, a provision would make up to $3 billion of the Veterans Choice Fund available to legally augment health care delivered by non-VA providers—up to $500 million of which is for hepatitis C treatment—during FY15. If passed, VA could adjust its accounts so that obligations incurred on May 1, 2015, or later by the medical services account could be charged to the Veterans Choice Fund instead.
Thus far, no progress on the bill has been made, although VA leaders met with ranking members of both the House and Senate committees on Veterans Affairs to discuss growing demand and increased access to care.
“VA’s continued lack of transparency and refusal to be forthright with Congress is unacceptable,” blasted Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in a statement. “I look forward to discussing with Deputy Secretary Gibson how such a massive shortfall could have come as a surprise to the department, and how to put an end to these frequent cost overruns while ensuring veterans receive the care they have earned.”
So where did the FY15 budget go, and why so fast? According to VA, much of the spending was on hiring medical staff, extending business hours, and boosting productivity in order to provide veterans greater access to care. The VA notes it completed 2.6 million more appointments between June 1, 2014, and May 31, 2015, compared with the same period in 2013 to 2014 and that its health care workload is up 10.5% in both VA facilities and its Care in the Community program.