At End-of-Year Hearing, Tester Questions VA Secretary on Department’s Top Goals, Warns of Failure to Fund Veterans’ Priorities

VA Secretary McDonough warns lack of resources would hamper the delivery of critical benefits and care to the nation’s veterans

Chairman Jon Tester today led a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing to evaluate the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) ongoing work and future priorities for our nation’s veterans.

During the hearing, Tester questioned VA Secretary Denis McDonough on the implications for veterans and their families if Congress fails to pass the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed Fiscal Year 2022 VA funding bill—critical legislation to fund government operations.

“It appears we’re going to be working on a Continuing Resolution at least until the end of January,” said Chairman Tester. “Included in the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed Fiscal Year 2022 bill is mandatory funding needed to pay veterans’ benefits resulting from new Agent Orange presumptives. There’s also discretionary funding to hire hundreds of additional claims processors. Can you discuss how VA will pay these veterans their earned benefits and reduce the claims backlog if new funding is not made available?”

“I’m very concerned about a year-long Continuing Resolution,” replied VA Secretary McDonough. “You just hit one of the big detriments which would be a $259 million decrement from what we anticipated having to invest for toxic exposure at VBA [Veterans Benefits Administration]…but there’d also be a decrement of $941 million in community care. That’s a substantial hit.”

McDonough also warned that short-term resources would hamper VA’s ability to continue to processing veterans’ claims and inevitably lead to an increased backlog.

Last month, Tester took the Senate floor to blast the partisan block of must-pass, critical funding legislation to support the nation’s veterans and military beyond December 3rd. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Tester secured critical funding and provisions in the Fiscal Year 2022 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to aid the VA in addressing the most critical problems facing veterans and their families. This includes funding for the Department to automatically review disability claims benefits for veterans suffering from three presumptive conditions related to Agent Orange exposure—a top priority for the Chairman.

The Committee also heard directly from VA Secretary McDonough on the agency’s top priorities headed into the New Year—including protecting the Department’s workforce against COVID-19, providing a comprehensive solution for veterans suffering from the effects of toxic exposure, and ensuring veterans have timely access to world class health care and benefits.

Tester’s Q&A is available HERE.