Stan Spangle Sr.: Questions remain about VA budget

Feb. 14, 2013 @ 03:23 PM

I have been sitting here for over an hour, trying to find something upbeat to start off my column. I hate to have only unpleasant and gloomy information to pass on to you. Hopefully, something will come to light before I run out of space.
No one expects the administration’s budget to be out before April (two months or more later than usual). There’s no way to know what this will mean to next (fiscal) year’s Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs budgets. Most likely it will cause a legislative nightmare. It could mean that the federal budget could be on a Continuing Resolution (CR) for the full fiscal year.
A little under two weeks from now, budgetary sequestration goes into full or partial sequestration, hopefully, we can avoid the full sequestration. There is a memo going around concerning the military health systems, with a goal to identify and “implement” savings in the Private Sector Care (TRICARE) managed care contracts. A team has been created to study these contracts and find savings. Their job also includes delaying Facility Sustainment, Restoration and Modernization (FSRM) and includes installing a hiring freeze for Defense Health Program funded civilian employees, plus more, much-much more. This is only a small segment of DoD’s Defense Health Program.
There seems to be a lot of calculated assertions being done, involving billions of dollars. To calculate is defined as: to plan deliberately, to suppose, an educated guess. I often find myself wondering – if someone is that educated, why would they want to go to Washington, D.C.?
Finally, some “good” news: There are new bills before Congress — four in the Senate with six co-sponsors and three from the House with two co-sponsors. One bill was about jobs, one about education, the rest (four) concerned health care and the homeless. Also just out, this past Monday or Tuesday was a story that new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agrees to have an audit of the Pentagon. DoD is the only budget in the federal government that has not been audited. Last year two senators, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., created a bill to force DoD to get its books organized to be audited, even though a law is already in place requiring that.
There’s more not so good news: The Department of Veterans’ Affairs just published a new study that says roughly 22 military veterans kill themselves every day. That is about 20 percent higher than they estimated in 2007. The new study also pointed out that more than two-thirds of the veteran suicides are 50 or older, suggesting that the increase is not primarily driven by those returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The study also shows that the veteran suicide rate is three times that of the civilian population as a whole. An interesting trend was noted following the VA’s name change of its call center from “suicide hotline” to “crisis line.” Call volume spiked in the months after the name change.
Semper Fi.  Pray for the families of the fallen.

Stan Spangle Sr. is a 21-year veteran of the Marine Corps, serving in Korea and Vietnam. He’s a member of numerous veterans organizations. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.