Top VA official warns of hospital shutdown

Top VA official warns of hospital shutdown
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A senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs is warning Congress on Monday that it needs to fill a $3 billion shortfall or risk shutting down VA hospitals in August.

“It is essential that Congress pass legislation to provide the requested budget flexibility by the end of July 2015,” Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

“This is necessary to replenish critical operations funding that VA had to reallocate from other medical services programs to sustain Care in the Community, after those funds were depleted ... if these program funds are not restored, VA will face shutting down hospital operations during August 2015,” he said.

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The VA had asked Congress to approve a funding shift three weeks ago, which would cover a roughly $3 billion budget gap in the department’s Care in the Community program, which outsources medical care for veterans, and for Hepatitis C pharmaceutical expenses.

Gibson explained in the letter that the VA had to reallocate funding intended for other medical services programs to sustain the Care in the Community program. The funds that were shifted were originally meant for clinical personnel salaries, medical equipment and other operations.

In addition to the letter, the VA submitted a formal legislative proposal that would shift $3 billion in funds so the VA’s community care program can continue operating for the rest of the fiscal year, which runs through September.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs panel, recently called it “disturbing” that VA officials waited nearly nine months to disclose such a large shortfall to Congress, according to The Associated Press.

At the time, Miller said he would work with the Appropriations Committee to give the VA flexibility with its budget.

The House has just three weeks left before it’s scheduled to go on its annual August recess, while the Senate is slated to leave for the recess in the first week of August.