The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) recently requested billions in additional funding, amid being embroiled in controversy.
The VA’s 2017 budget requests an additional $3.6 billion in discretionary funding, a 4.9 percent increase from the 2016 budget. The 2018 Advance Appropriations request for mandatory benefits is $103.9 billion, an increase of $1.4 billion from last year’s request. It includes $66.4 billion for medical care, an increase of $1.4 billion.
However, at a recent Washington budget hearing that reviewed the VA’s budget, Illinois Senator Mark Kirk showed a giant photo of army veteran Tom Young and his two daughters. Young took his own life after calling the VA suicide hotline and reached a voice mailbox, Kirk said.
The VA’s crisis hotline, which was the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, received more than 450,000 calls in 2014–a 40 percent increase from 2013.
To make matters worse for the VA, USA Today reported Matthew Eitutis, who was selected to fix the VA’s suicide hotline, has overseen other agency phone banks with a poor record of service. Some of these agencies dropped one in five calls from veterans, USA Today found.
“We will continue to develop and expand our mental health system with the goal to reduce the end of unacceptable veteran suicides,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, undersecretary, Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA’s Suicide Data Reported estimated that 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
“The demand for benefits and service from veterans of all eras continues to increase and will continue to increase decades after conflicts end,” said Danny Pummill, Veterans Benefits Administration, as reported by ABC News.
The VA recently announced the award of 21 new contracts worth $22.3 billion for information technology improvements, cyber security and operations and network management. The contracts are part of the VA’s Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology Next Generation acquisition program, or T4NG, which awards contracts for technical support, program management, strategy planning, systems/software engineering, enterprise network engineering, cyber security, and more.