The Veterans Affairs Department says the $16.3 billion lawmakers approved earlier this year to meet rising patient demand won't be enough to sustain care for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in the coming decades.
“We need more,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast Tuesday.
He predicted that “40 years from now is going to be the peak need of the veterans who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, so we need to start building that capability now and we’re going to be asking for budget increases in order to do that.”
He said that most Americans think that because those wars are winding down “we don’t need to worry about the VA,” but pointed out that the agency is still caring for a dependent from the Civil War and 100 dependents from the Spanish-American War.
In July, then-acting VA chief Sloan Gibson announced the department needed $17.6 billion in new funds over the next three years to correct poor patient handling and wait times.
The announcement nearly scuttled negotiations between House and Senate lawmakers on a bill to revamp the VA following months of scandals over veteran care.
Lawmakers eventually settled on legislation with a price tag of $16.3 billion.
The bill provides $10 billion for veterans to seek private care at hospitals and clinics outside the VA, and $5 billion for the department to hire more doctors, nurses and medical staff.
Another $1.5 billion could be spent on leases to use other medical facilities at 27 sites around the country.
But it has been unclear how long the $10 billion funding will actually last and when the VA will need to go back to Congress for additional money.
A new request could fall on deaf ears as lawmakers return to Washington to hammer out fiscal 2015 spending bills and look toward 2016.
McDonald did not say how much more his agency would need, but that some of the things that had been cut from the original request included hiring more employees to work disability claims and additional funding for a homeless veterans program.
He noted the "good news" that the VA budget has increased every year under President Obama but said “it’s going to have to keep rising because that curve is heading on a slope up. It’s not steady and it’s not flat.”
McDonald said that veterans today submit to the VA for treatment an average of six times, whereas they averaged only one following World War II.
The agency has also received more claims from veterans who have been exposed to Agent Orange or experienced traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder “before the science was available,” he said.