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The Cost of Cuts

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2013

Sequestration of veterans funding will affect vets as well as the operation of VA.

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Most who are veterans and receiving some sort of financial support from the Department of Veterans Affairs are likely not paying much attention to the sequestration dialogue taking place in Washington. This discussion has been heated and laced with animosity by both parties and all branches of the government.

The fact is, sequestration has the potential to affect us, as veterans, and certainly affect VA’s operation. So, thinking it will have no impact on you is potentially not going to be the case.

Just what is sequestration? The Congressional Research Service defines sequestration as follows: “In general, sequestration entails the permanent cancellation of budgetary resources by a uniform percentage. Moreover, this uniform percentage reduction is applied to all programs, projects and activities within a budget account.”

More simply put, sequestration is the use of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in the face of annual budget deficits. From a household budget standpoint, it would be like having to automatically cut anything you spend money on such as groceries, gasoline, mortgage payments, electricity, and so on by a set percentage with no way to avoid it. This would bring your income in line with your expenses — but think of what the impact would be on your family.

The “no way to avoid it” phrase is what gives sequestration its teeth. The results from enacting such action are so unthinkable that no one in Congress or the White House ever thought it would occur. Well, surprise, it did!

In 2011, the Budget Control Act required the Department of Defense (DOD) to cut from its budget $487 billion over a ten-year period. If a bipartisan group of congressmen couldn’t agree on additional cuts, the government would have to impose an additional $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over ten years. Half of the additional cuts would come from DOD and the other half from other federal agencies — one of which could be VA.

Now that we are past the Dec. 31, 2012, deadline, Congress is getting nervous and holding numerous hearings with agency heads to determine what damage they caused and the impact. At a hearing before a congressional committee, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki admitted VA was exempt from sequestration except for “administrative costs.”

The question is, what are administrative costs? Those of us familiar with VA know it’s a giant administrative machine.

Recently, Paralyzed Veterans of America President Bill Lawson testified before Congress about the “administrative costs” issue. VA admitted that budgeted administrative expenses could be cut by 2% despite earlier government assurances that VA would be immune to any cuts under sequestration. It presently takes up to three months to qualify a new nurse or doctor to practice in the VA Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) System. Most of this time is associated with administrative actions. If a cut is made in this area, it is going to have a direct impact on patient healthcare. 

We are now down approximately 160 nurses below required staffing in the SCI system and a significant number of doctors. Any delay in filling those positions corresponds directly to a reduction in the usable number of beds and, consequently, delays in patient admissions.

This is only one example of the long reaching tentacles of sequestration within the possible definition of “administrative costs.” Until we get assurances of VA’s exemption from the effect of sequestration, we should be prepared to fight any effort, present or future, that might include veterans’ funding in the program.

During the bloody Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln gave his Second Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1865. In the last paragraph, he summed up a debt he believed the nation owed to those who defended it: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and his widow and his orphan.”

I don’t think President Lincoln would have much use for sequestration of veterans’ funding. Let us hope our current president has little use as well.

 

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The Cost of Cuts

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