As the Republican-led House of Representatives prepares to take up its debt limit bill as soon as Wednesday, President Joe Biden’s Veteran Affairs secretary warns that the measure would harm those who’ve served the country.
A fact sheet from the White House released last week claims that if enacted, the House GOP’s bill would cut funding for veterans’ medical care by 22%, resulting in 30 million fewer outpatient visits for veterans and 81,000 jobs lost across the VA health system.
In an interview with Spectrum News on Tuesday, Veterans Affairs secretary Denis McDonough warned that the bill would harm the progress made by the Biden administration to expand veteran care.
“If they go forward with it, there's a real chance that we could see a reduction of 30 million outpatient visits for veterans, as many as 81,000 jobs cut in the Veterans Health Administration,” McDonough said. “That's a very real impact on veterans who rely on VA for their health care.”
Also Tuesday, a group of 23 Veterans Service Organizations wrote a letter to Congress urging lawmakers not to pass the bill, citing potential harm to veterans.
"Over the past few years, VA has seen significant advancements in veteran healthcare and benefits," the letter reads. "If enacted, the proposed legislation would dramatically reduce total federal discretionary spending and could endanger funding for VA and veterans’ programs. Without specific language to explicitly protect VA from the impact of the proposed budget reductions, it would leave many veteran resources open to cuts, potentially undoing years of progress VA has made for those that have earned it."
"Our nation’s veterans, caregivers, and survivors have already sacrificed too much," the letter later reads. "Our country must keep our promises and provide them with the best healthcare and benefits possible. The Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023 does not spell out the necessary protections and puts these benefits at risk."
McDonough praised “generous appropriations” from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress which have aided the agency in providing more care to veterans, including permanently housing 40,000 homeless veterans last year, while also warning that the Biden administration’s signature veterans’ care bill — the PACT act, which gives funding for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits — could be impacted by the legislation.
“Included among our concerns are in the Veterans Benefits Administration, where we may see a reduction of 6,000 jobs,” he said. “Meaning that veterans who apply for benefits, including under the new toxic exposure law, the PACT act, would have to wait to get those benefits, and these are benefits that they've earned and … they richly deserve.”
McDonough was not the only administration official to warn of the impacts the House Republicans’ bill could have on America’s veterans.
“Democrats … know the meaning of what these budget cuts mean,” Office of Management and Budget director Shalanda Young said on CNN Wednesday morning. “Are we really talking about cutting veterans’ medical care? Because that’s what non-defense discretionary [spending] is.”
When Spectrum News reached out to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office for comment, they pointed to a comment the California Republican made earlier this month in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange urging Americans not to "believe anyone who says these [spending cuts] are draconian limits."
"They’re the same spending levels we operated under just last [December]," McCarthy said in his remarks. "And we’ll make sure that our veterans and our service members are taken care of."
Like other members of the Biden administration, McDonough urged Congress to pass a clean increase to the debt ceiling, calling the potential impacts of a first-ever default on the country’s debts “unimaginable.”
“I hope they do what they did three times in the last administration, which is extend the debt limit system that Congress does routinely,” he said. “We think they should do it again, and I hope that they do, because the implications for veterans are unthinkable.”
McDonough called on lawmakers in both parties to work with the White House “to get the kinds of generous appropriations for our veterans that we've come to expect from Republicans and Democrats over the last several years.”