Overall, department requests 4 percent increase in 2014 discretionary budget.
The Veterans Affairs Department will request a discretionary budget of $63.5 billion in 2014, a four percent increase over the 2013 funding levels President Obama approved last month and $500 million below what the department originally sought for 2013, the White House said in a preliminary release of the VA budget.
The 2014 VA budget request includes $155 million for a paperless Veterans Benefits Management System designed to eliminate the disability claims backlog by 2015, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told a media briefing on Friday.
That proposal is four times higher than VBM’s final 2013 funding level of $38.5 million, which was a 40 percent cut from the $92.5 million VA had originally requested for 2013.
Over the past month veterans groups and the chairman of the House VA Committee have sharply criticized the claims backlog, a growing problem illustrated on Friday with stinging satire by comedian Jon Stewart on the The Daily Show. VA had 885,068 backlogged claims as of April 1, down two percent from 903,286 the week before.
The 2014 discretionary VA budget also includes a nearly $7 billion or a 7.2 percent increase over the enacted 2013 funding for mental health services, including expanded treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and military sexual trauma.
The White House said this money would also help VA expand collaborative efforts with the Defense and Health Human Service departments to provide mental health care for veterans, as directed the President in an Aug. 31, 2012 executive order.
The White House said the proposed 2014 VA budget calls for a permanent extension to the Returning Heroes Tax Credit, which provides up to $5,600 to employers to hire unemployed veterans, and the Wounded Warrior Tax Credit, which provides up to $9,600 to hire long-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities.
VA’s discretionary budget covers the department’s operations outside of mandatory benefit entitlement programs.