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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray and Ranking Member Richard Burr sent a joint letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki expressing their concern that VA may not have sufficient resources to adequately address increasing demand for veterans’ health care in FY 2012.  Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Burr’s letter asks VA for specific assurances that VA remains ready and able to provide the health care upon which more and more veterans depend.

The full text of the Senators’ letter is below:

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

In this time of economic uncertainty, with an increasing number of our servicemembers returning home, the demand for medical care at VA medical centers is certain to grow.  This demand, coupled with the lower than expected Medical Care Collections Fund (MCCF) collection rate, and recent reports regarding staffing reductions and emergency budget cuts at certain medical centers, underscores the critical need to ensure resources are being maximized and Department appropriations requests are accurately projected.

We are therefore writing today to confirm that VHA appropriations and carry-over for FY 2012 are on-track to meet the needs of our nation’s veterans, so that the care provided to our veterans remains the highest quality.

We understand from your July 21, 2011, sufficiency review of advance appropriations for FY 2012 medical care that the Department’s appropriations request was based, in part, upon projected carryover funds and revenues from the MCCF.  MCCF collections, along with operational improvements, and cost savings in acquisitions, fee care, and other programs, are key components of budget and operations planning and must be accurately projected.

We also understand that for the first quarter of FY 2011, VHA reported a 12.3 percent variance between its planned and actual collections, in the amount of nearly $100 million.  As of second quarter FY 2011, MCCF collections were 8.5 percent below plan and 5.2 percent below the same period last year.  Similarly, for third quarter FY 2011, collections remain 5.7 percent below plan.  In your July report, you stated that “there remains an element of risk to the sufficiency of the FY 2012 budget” and quoted a June 14, 2011, GAO report:

If the estimated savings for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 do not materialize and VA receives appropriations in the amount requested by the President, VA may have to make difficult trade-offs to manage within the resources provided.

Such difficult trade-offs are evident throughout the VA health care system.  We understand, for example, that the Indianapolis VAMC faced an $18 million budget shortfall at the start of FY 2011.  Against this backdrop, and challenged by an unprecedented demand for services from veterans, the medical center reduced expenditures and slowed the hiring of additional and replacement staff.  Similarly, the Tampa VAMC continues to take steps to address a budget deficit that is currently near $17 million and has been as high as $47.5 million this fiscal year.  Such steps have included a reduction in staffing through attrition by 111 positions, and cuts from lab services, mental health programs and education funds.  Each of these actions, while fiscally sound, could have an adverse impact on patient care quality.

As we enter into FY 2012, it is imperative that VHA remains ready and able to provide the quality medical care upon which our veterans depend.  Accordingly, we ask that you detail for us your plan to increase MCCF collections, so that collections goals in FY 2012 are met.  Additionally, please address whether there are budgetary shortfall risks at VISNs or medical centers for FY 2012.  Are VHA appropriations and carryover on-track to meet VHA needs?  Finally, do you anticipate that VISNs and medical centers will be able to meet budgetary obligations without having to significantly draw upon reserve funds?

Thank you for providing this information to us.  Ours is a shared mission to safeguard the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans and we look forward to working with you to this end.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray
Chairman

Richard Burr
Ranking Member