As the efforts of our military men and women to secure Iraq and other areas of the world continue, Congress is making efforts to ensure these soldiers will be taken care of when they become veterans. All of our military personnel should know Americans are united in their support of them, we all wish for their safe return, and we’ll work to make sure they’re provided with the benefits they’re due.

The leadership in Congress, along with President Bush, supports efforts not only to enhance the capabilities of our active military, but we support efforts to provide the proper resources for the scores of veterans who have already given so much to this country.

Unfortunately there have been some false reports circulating that indicate Congress is cutting veterans’ benefits. In April, Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi addressed the rumors of cuts in veterans’ benefit. Secretary Principi said: “If any such cut in veterans’ benefits were made, veterans and their families would be justifiably concerned. But there is no truth to any suggestion or assertion the VA’s budget will be ‘cut’ or ‘slashed’ next year. In fact, funding for veterans’ programs will increase in fiscal year 2004, probably by record levels.”

The facts of the Congressional budget for Fiscal Year 2004 support Secretary Principi’s remarks and dispel the notion that veterans’ funding will be cut. As proposed in the budget framework which passed earlier in the year, almost $64 billion is earmarked for veterans’ programs. This represents an increase of $6.2 billion—more than 10 percent—over the current year’s spending on veterans.

Of that budget, $33.8 billion (8.9 percent increase) goes to veterans’ entitlements such as compensation, pensions, etc. This will allow veterans’ mandatory programs to grow to support increased payments for compensation, pensions, and educational benefits. Of this funding increase, nearly 80 percent is for increases in veterans’ disability compensation.

More than $30 billion in veterans’ spending for next year is for discretionary spending on programs. This represents an almost 13 percent increase, the vast majority of which goes toward providing medical care for our veterans.

Contrary to what’s often reported, funding for veterans’ programs has increased significantly over the past few years. In fact, since 1998, Congress has increased VA medical care spending by 58 percent, for an average annual growth of almost 8 percent.

Increases are evident in other areas of the VA budget for 2004. Included is $225 million for construction of new medical facilities to increase services to our veterans. The Burial Benefits program will see an increase of 4.8 percent, including funds to open new national cemeteries.

These are the facts of the federal budget for veterans. Congress and the President are committed to ensuring those who’ve served our country with pride, valor, and dignity receive the benefits they’re due as veterans. Any suggestion that veterans’ programs are being cut is simply untrue. IBI