Paralyzed Veterans' Independent Budget Statement Before the VA House Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. 5/24/17 -  
 
STATEMENT OF PARALYZED VETERANS OF AMERICA
ON BEHALF OF THE CO-AUTHORS OF THE INDEPENDENT BUDGET
BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS CONCERNING:

THE INDEPENDENT BUDGET AND THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS BUDGET FOR FISCAL YEAR 2018 AND FISCAL YEAR 2019

MAY 24, 2017

Chairman Roe, Ranking Member Walz, and members of the Committee, as one of the co-authors of The Independent Budget (IB), along with DAV and Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) is pleased to present our views regarding the funding requirements for the delivery of health care for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for FY 2018 and advance appropriations for FY 2019. 
 
The IB’s recommendations include funding for all discretionary programs for FY 2018 as well as advance appropriations recommendations for medical care accounts for FY 2019. The full budget report recently released by The Independent Budget addressing all aspects of discretionary funding for the VA can be downloaded at www.independentbudget.org. The FY 2018 projections are particularly important because previous VA Secretary Robert McDonald admitted last year that the VA’s FY 2018 advance appropriation request was not truly sufficient and would need significant additional resources provided this year. We hope that Congress will take this defined shortfall very seriously and appropriately address this need. Our own FY 2018 estimates affirm this need.
 
We appreciate the fact that the Administration’s budget request just released includes some increases in discretionary dollars for the Medical Care accounts. However, it is important for us to address the notion that VA does not need any additional resources, based on the expansive growth of overall VA expenses in the last 10 years. These ideas are not grounded in thorough analysis of demand and utilization of VA health care. Perhaps Congress can explain how the VA can take on significantly more demand for services both inside VA and in the community, and yet meet that demand and utilization with less resources (an assertion peddled by some organizations). While VA has seen substantial growth in its funding needs over the last decade, much of that is reflected in mandatory benefits to include the implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
 
We also believe it is necessary to consider the projected expenditures under the Choice program authority that the previous Administration planned in FY 2017 and how that impacts the baseline that will dictate the funding needs for FY 2018. The previous Administration assumed as much as $5.7 billion in spending through the Choice program in FY 2017, on top of the Medical Services discretionary funding and the newly created Medical Community Care account. That amount was revised to approximately $2.9 billion. This means that the VA projected to spend more than $59.0 billion in Medical Services and more than $71.0 billion in overall Medical Care funding in FY 2017. These considerations inform the decisions of The Independent Budget to establish our baseline for our funding recommendations for both FY 2018 and FY 2019.
 
Earlier this year, the Administration also indicated that it intends to request as much as $3.5 billion in additional funding for the Choice program to keep it operating at least through the end of FY 2018. That amount has since been revised to $2.9 billion for FY 2018 and $3.5 billion for FY 2019 and beyond. However, this recommendation begs the question: does this recommendation suggest that the Choice program as currently designed should continue in perpetuity? Certainly no reasonable person supports that idea. We believe that Congress must reject continued funding of this program through a mandatory account and place in line with all other community care funded through the discretionary Community Care account established previously by in order to eliminate competing sources of funding for delivery of health care services in the community, while maintaining visibility on spending through the Choice program.
 
For FY 2018, the IB recommends approximately $77.0 billion in total medical care funding. Congress previously approved only $70.0 billion in total medical care funding for FY 2018 (which includes an assumption of approximately $3.6 billion in medical care collections). The Administration’s budget request includes a not-insignificant overall medical care funding recommendation of approximately $75.2 billion. However, we remain concerned that this level of funding will not keep pace with the continually increasing demand and utilization. The IB’s recommendation also considers the approximately $1 billion VA is expected to have remaining in the Veterans Choice Fund and expected demand for care, including community care, that will not diminish or go away if the Choice Program expires. The Independent Budget recommends approximately $82.8 billion in advance appropriations for total Medical Care for FY 2019.
 
Medical Services
For FY 2018, The Independent Budget recommends $64.5 billion for Medical Services. This recommendation includes:

  • Current Services Estimate………………………….$60,897,313,000
  • Increase in Patient Workload………………………..$1,595,242,000
  • Additional Medical Care Program Cost…..……..$2,001,000,000
  • Total FY 2018 Medical Services……………….…..$64,493,555,000

The current services estimate reflects the impact of projected uncontrollable inflation on the cost to provide services to veterans currently using the system. This estimate also assumes a 1.5 percent increase for pay and benefits across the board for all VA employees in FY 2018. It was previously reported that the new Administration would like to consider a 1.9 percent federal pay raise.
 
Our estimate of growth in patient workload is based on a projected increase of approximately 90,000 new unique patients. These patients include priority group 1­–8 veterans and covered non-veterans. We estimate the cost of these new unique patients to be approximately $1.4 billion. The increase in patient workload also includes a projected increase of 58,000 new Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) enrollees, as well as Operation New Dawn (OND) veterans at a cost of approximately $242 million. The increase in utilization among OEF/OIF/OND veterans is supported by the average annual increase in new users through the third quarter of FY 2016.
 
Additionally, The Independent Budget believes that there are medical program funding needs for VA that must be considered. Those costs total approximately $2.0 billion.
 
Long-Term Services and Supports
The Independent Budget recommends $535 million for FY 2018.  This recommendation reflects the fact that there was a significant increase in the number of veterans receiving Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS) in 2016.  Unfortunately, due to loss of authorities—specifically fee-care no longer being authorized, provider agreement authority not yet enacted, and the inability to use Choice funds for all but skilled nursing care—to purchase appropriate LTSS care particularly for home and community-based care, we estimate an increase in the number of veterans using the more costly long-stay and short-stay nursing home care.
 
Prosthetics and Sensory Aids
In order to meet the increase in demand for prosthetics, the IB recommends an additional $320 million. This increase in prosthetics funding reflects a similar increase in expenditures from FY 2016 to FY 2017 and the expected continued growth in expenditures for FY 2018.
 
Women Veterans
The Medical Services appropriation should be supplemented with $110 million designated for women’s health care programs in FY 2018. These funds will be used to help the VA deal with the continuing growth in women veterans coming to VA for care, including coverage for gynecological, prenatal, and obstetric care, other gender-specific services, and for expansion and repair of facilities hosting women’s care to improve privacy and safety of these facilities.  The new funds would also aid VHA in making its cultural transformation to ensure women veterans are made to feel welcome at VA, and provide means for VA to improve specialized services for preventing suicide and homelessness and improvements for mental health and readjustment services for women veterans.
 
Reproductive Services (to Include IVF)
Last year, Congress authorized appropriations for the remainder of FY 2017 and FY 2018 to provide reproductive services, to include in vitro fertilization (IVF), to service-connected catastrophically disabled veterans whose injuries preclude their ability to conceive children. The VA projects that this service will impact less than 500 veterans and their spouses in FY 2018. The VA also anticipates an expenditure of no more than $20 million during that period. However, these services are not directly funded; therefore, the IB recommends approximately $20 million to cover the cost of reproductive services in FY 2018. We are pleased to see that the Administration does retain the authority to provide reproductive services in its budget proposal. 
 
Emergency Care
Recently, the VA has received serious scrutiny for its interpretation of legislation dating back to 2009, which required it to pay for veterans who sought emergency care outside of the VA health care system. The Richard W. Staab v. Robert A. McDonald ruling handed down by the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims last year, places the financial responsibility of these emergency care claims squarely on the VA. Although VA continues to appeal this decision, it is not expected to prevail in this case leaving itself with a more than $10 billion dollar obligation over the next 10 years. The Staab ruling is estimated to cost VA approximately $1.0 billion in FY 2018 and about $1.1 billion in FY 2019, which the IB has included in our recommendations. We are disappointed to see that the Administration’s proposal continues to ignore its growing obligation to cover the cost of emergency care as dictated by the Staab decision.  
 
FY 2019 Medical Services Advance Appropriations
The Independent Budget once again offers baseline projections for funding through advance appropriations for the Medical Care accounts for FY 2019. While the enactment of advance appropriations for VA medical care in 2009 helped to improve the predictability of funding requested by the Administration and approved by Congress, we have become increasingly concerned that sufficient corrections have not been made in recent years to adjust for new, unexpected demand for care. As indicated previously, we have serious concerns that the previous Administration significantly underestimated its FY 2018 advance appropriations request. This trend cannot be allowed to continue, particularly as Congress continues to look for ways to reduce discretionary spending, even when those reductions cannot be justified.
 
For FY 2019, The Independent Budget recommends approximately $69.5 billion for Medical Services. Our Medical Services advance appropriations recommendation includes:

  • Current Services Estimate…………………………..$66,334,946,000
  • Increase in Patient Workload………………………...$1,589,892,000
  • Additional Medical Care Program Cost…..………$1,526,000,000
  • Total FY 2019 Medical Services………………..…..$69,450,838,000

 Our estimate of growth in patient workload is based on a projected increase of approximately 78,000 new patients. These new unique patients include priority group 1­–8 veterans and covered nonveterans. We estimate the cost of these new patients to be approximately $1.3 billion. This recommendation also reflects an assumption that more veterans will be accessing the system as VA expands its capacity and services and we believe that reliance rates will increase as veterans examine their health care options as a part of the Choice program. The increase in patient workload also assumes a projected increase of 62,500 new OEF/OIF and OND veterans, at a cost of approximately $272 million.
 
As previously discussed, the IBVSOs believe that there are additional medical program funding needs for VA. In order to meet the increase in demand for prosthetics, the IB recommends an additional $330 million. We believe that VA should invest a minimum of $120 million as an advance appropriation in FY 2019 to expand and improve access to women veterans’ health care programs. Our additional program cost recommendation includes continued investment of $20 million to support extension of the authority to provide reproductive services to the most catastrophically disabled veterans. Finally, VA’s cost burden for paying emergency care claims dictated by the Staab ruling will require at least $1.1 billion in FY 2019 alone.
 
Medical Support and Compliance
For Medical Support and Compliance, The Independent Budget recommends $6.7 billion for FY 2018. Our projected increase reflects growth in current services based on the impact of inflation on the FY 2017 appropriated level. Additionally, for FY 2019 The Independent Budget recommends $6.8 billion for Medical Support and Compliance. We have concerns about the significant growth in these administrative account functions recommended by the Administration (nearly $300 million in FY 2018 and an additional $300 million in FY 2019) as these areas have been shown to be bloated on numerous occasions in the past. These dollars could certainly be better spent providing direct care services to veterans.
 
Medical Facilities
For Medical Facilities, The Independent Budget recommends $5.8 billion for FY 2018. Our Medical Facilities recommendation includes $1.35 billion for Non-Recurring Maintenance (NRM). Likewise, The Independent Budget recommends approximately $6.6 billion for Medical Facilities for FY 2019. Our FY 2019 advance appropriation recommendation also includes $1.35 billion for NRM. We are pleased to see the Administration recommending real funding for this account in FY 2018 (approximately $6.5 billion), but we are concerned that the Budget Request reflects the continued trend of reducing the recommendation in the advance appropriation year ($5.9 billion in FY 2019) in order to seemingly hold down discretionary projections.
 
Medical and Prosthetic Research
We are very disappointed to see the major cut in funding for the Medical and Prosthetic Research program in the Administration’s Budget Request—from $675 million in FY 2017 to $640 million in FY 2018. The VA Medical and Prosthetic Research program is widely acknowledged as a success on many levels, and contributes directly to improved care for veterans and an elevated standard of care for all Americans. We recommend that Congress appropriate $713 million for Medical and Prosthetic Research for FY 2018. Additionally, under the President’s Precision Medicine Initiative, the IBVSOs recommend $65 million to enable VA to process one quarter of the MVP samples collected, for a total research appropriation of $778 million.
 
Thank you for the opportunity to testify. We would be happy to answer any questions you have.
Information Required by Rule XI 2(g) of the House of Representatives
 
Pursuant to Rule XI 2(g) of the House of Representatives, the following information is provided regarding federal grants and contracts.
 
Fiscal Year 2017
 
Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events — Grant to support rehabilitation sports activities — $275,000. 
 
Fiscal Year 2016
 
Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events — Grant to support rehabilitation sports activities — $200,000. 
 
Fiscal Year 2015
 
Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of National Veterans Sports Programs & Special Events — Grant to support rehabilitation sports activities — $425,000. 
 
Disclosure of Foreign Payments
Paralyzed Veterans of America is largely supported by donations from the general public.  However, in some very rare cases we receive direct donations from foreign nationals.  In addition, we receive funding from corporations and foundations which in some cases are U.S. subsidiaries of non-U.S. companies.