Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

May 24, 2014

Fact Check: Heuvel says Congress has 'slashed funding'

Allegations about secret wait lists and delays for veterans seeking care at VA facilities around the country have begun to reverberate in Washington.

The controversy stemmed from a variety of reports about lengthy delays that may have contributed to veterans’ deaths, compounded by allegations of efforts to cover up the delays at several VA facilities, including one in Phoenix.

By May 21, 2014, the concern had become so intense that President Barack Obama held a news conference following a meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Despite calls from some corners for Shinseki’s resignation, Obama did not say the VA secretary was stepping down.

A few days earlier, the Sunday morning talk shows addressed the growing VA controversy. One of those who discussed the VA health care troubles on CBS’ Face the Nation was Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor and publisher of the liberal magazine The Nation.

“It’s an outrage,” vanden Heuvel said. “Those who are involved in these longer wait times must be held accountable, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But I think we need to step back.” She continued, “I mean, Congress has cut funding, has slashed funding, for veterans’ benefits over these last years. If anyone should be offering their resignation, maybe the Congress should.”

Vanden Heuvel’s claim is problematic for a pair of reasons.

First, she said “veterans’ benefits” — which include disability payments, pensions, survivor benefits and programs like the G.I. Bill and vocational rehabilitation. Those programs are considered “mandatory spending,” which means they’re paid by a statutory formula and are not subject to annual budgetary tinkering by Congress.

What vanden Heuvel meant to refer to — based on what she told us and the context of her comments — was spending for the VA health system. Health system spending is considered “discretionary” spending and under the purview of Congress.

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