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Obama budget ups VA spending by $9B

President Obama’s budget plan would give the Veterans Affairs Department an approximately $9 billion boost over this year's spending levels.

The 2016 budget blueprint calls for $168.8 billion for the agency, an increase from $163.9 billion in 2015. The president wants $70.2 billion in discretionary funding for the department to pay for items like construction, medical care and research.

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The 2016 budget also would provide for $63.3 billion in advance appropriations for medical care in 2017, a 5.5 percent increase over 2016.

The agency estimates it will treat 6.9 million patients in 2016 and 7.0 million patients in 2017.

“VA has before it one of the greatest opportunities in its history to enhance care for Veterans and build a more efficient and effective system,” VA Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement. “We are listening to what veterans, Congress, employees, veterans service organizations, and other stakeholders are telling us."

The former Procter & Gamble CEO said he wants the VA to be a "model agency that is held up as an example for other government agencies to follow with respect to customer experience, efficient and effective operations, and taxpayer stewardship."

The increases come less than a year after a national scandal over medical wait times rocked the department, forcing then-VA chief Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiVA might not be able to end veteran homelessness, but we shouldn't stop trying Bill HR 2333 is a good step to helping curb veteran suicide  Senate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems MORE to resign.

In response, lawmakers passed a roughly $16 billion emergency funding bill last year to help the beleaguered agency hire more doctors and allow veterans facing long waits to see a doctor to seek treatment at non-VA facilities.

Since that request preceded the budget request for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, Obama said he would “submit legislation to reallocate a portion of Veterans Choice Program funding to support essential investments in VA system priorities,” according to the budget request.

The documents did not elaborate, but the proposal has already encountered resistance on Capitol Hill.

“[T]he the president’s idea to reallocate a portion of Veterans Choice Program funding to other areas of VA is a complete non-starter, which I will not support,” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said in a statement.

“When a near-unanimous Congress worked with President Obama last year to create the choice program, we made a promise to veterans to give them more freedom in their health care decisions,” Miller said. “I will not stand idly by while the president attempts to renege on that promise.”

He said the VA “has left hundreds of millions in health care funding unspent since 2010 as thousands of veterans languished on waiting lists and squandered more than $1 billion on a host of botched construction projects, acquisition failures and extravagant employee conferences.”

Miller said lawmakers would make sure the 2016 budget proposal “receives the scrutiny it is due over the coming weeks.”