House chairman shreds VA’s $17.6B request

 

House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) on Thursday ripped the Veterans Affairs Department for requesting $17.6 billion in new funding, saying the money will only entrench the agency’s “perverse culture.” 

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"Throwing billions into a system that has never been denied a dime will not automatically fix the perverse culture” at the agency, Miller said in his opening statement at a hearing with acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson.

The VA “can no longer consider itself a sacred cow,” he said. “Veterans are sacred. The VA is not.”

Miller argued that the extra funding the VA has received over the last decade has gone toward “ancillary pet projects” and the agency had shifted its focus more “toward building a bureaucracy than providing patient care.”

Gibson made the request for new funding last week at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, and said the funds would be used to hire 10,000 clinical health staffers, including 1,500 new doctors, to reduce long wait times for veterans.

The new request has complicated the negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers who are working on a bipartisan bill to revamp the troubled department. They are divided over how the cost of the overhaul should be offset in the budget, and are running out of time to pass a reform bill before the August recess.

Miller chided the VA chief for  not providing enough details about the request. He said that the White House’s 2014 budget request was 1,300 pages, whereas the VA’s funding submission ran only two pages.

If there has been one lesson from the panel’s “top to bottom review” of the VA over the last two months, Miller said, it’s that the department’s numbers “simply cannot be trusted.”

Miller noted Gibson’s banking background and asked “if someone came into your bank with three pieces of paper and asked for one million dollars, would you give them one million dollars?”

Gibson replied that it would depend on the borrower, but took Miller’s meaning that the panel needs more information.

The acting secretary said that from his perspective the new figure is a “formal request for funding” and that the department had consulted with the Office of Management and Budget to come up with the amount.