The $14.3 trillion debt ceiling is expected by March 2011. In order to maintain the debt limit, lawmakers are considering cuts on federal spending as an alternative to raising the debt ceiling.
Representative Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., proposed a cut of federal spending by freezing the Veterans Affairs Department health care spending and cutting veterans' disability benefits. Her proposed VA budget cuts would account for $4.5 billion of the savings included in her overall budget cut plan.
Bachmann states that the freeze on VA health care spending is an example of ways to cut federal spending and avoid increasing the $14.3 trillion cap on U.S. government debt.
Although budget cuts are necessary, slashing veterans' benefits is an untimely solution, as more troops continue returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan in need of health care. In addition, the growing homelessness problem among veterans may be linked to a rise in service members returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, with less federal money available to support military healthcare.
CONGRESSIONAL BUDGET OFFICE AND HEALTH CARE SPENDING
Bachmann's target on veterans' benefits can perhaps be linked to the Congressional Budget Office October 2010 report that health care costs are steadily increasing. VA's health care budget reflects an upward trend: $44 billion in 2009, $48 billion in 2010 and is at $52 billion for 2011.
Bachmann said that Veterans' Disability Compensation and Social Security Disability income are duplicate payments; she proposed deducting the difference of Social Security Disability from Veterans' Disability Compensation. This proposal has been on Congressional Budget Office list before, but has never been pushed because CBO analysts predict strong opposition from veterans.
CUTTING BENEFITS FOR ALL VETERANS OR NO ONE
Options to offset costs continue being explored, including exempting veterans who already receive both Social Security Disability and Veterans Disability Compensation from benefit changes. However, according to estimates, saving $1.9 billion a year would require applying the benefit changes to all veterans receiving both payments, not just new arrivals to the Veterans Disability Compensation program. Applying benefit cuts to only to those who become eligible in the future would save only about $40 million in the first year, not offering much savings for the amount of anguish it would cause veterans.