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Veterans Affairs asks for nearly $18 billion

The U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs is asking for $17.6 billion to address the systemic problems that led to major backlogs and the wait-list scandal at its health facilities.

VA Acting Secretary Sloan D. Gibson told Congress yesterday that his department needs the money to hire 10,000 additional medical staff, build new clinics and pay private providers to take care of veterans who urgently need attention.

The budget request is for the next three years, but Gibson emphasized that the VA will continue to require hefty allocations in the future due to the increase in older veterans needing more services.

The $17.6 billion includes about $6 million for construction of new clinics, which Gibson said would create about 8 million new appointment slots each year.

Even if the VA’s funding request is approved, it’s not yet clear how the new hires would be distributed across the country or where the new clinics would be built.

In Maryland, officials were already planning to hire five more physicians over the next few months, according to Dr. Sandra Marshall, deputy chief of staff for the VA Maryland Health Care System, which includes three medical centers and six community clinics.

Without enough money to boost capacity and pay for private care, “wait times just get longer,” Gibson said.

Some lawmakers bristled at his request, according to The New York Times, while others acknowledged the “reality” that the VA is chronically understaffed and underfunded.