Among the biggest concerns related to cuts from sequestration were fears that veteran benefits could be slashed in the process. These vital services, which include healthcare, are often viewed as some of the most important programs offered by the government. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives took the first step toward preserving these benefits by passing a spending bill for the budget year beginning in October, The Associated Press reports.
The measure passed the House with nearly unanimous support, 421-4, but it is not without controversy. The White House has said that President Barack Obama may potentially veto the bill due largely to the fact that Republicans in Congress plan on balancing the spending for veterans by cutting other vital programs used by millions of Americans. Still, that move may be largely unpopular especially given the fact that there will be a growing number of veterans in the coming years as thousands of troops separate from service and the war in Afghanistan winds down.
More than just benefits
Although the main focus of the bill was to maintain benefits for veterans, it also included funding to help reduce the disability claims backlog that is currently plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs, notes the AP. According to figures from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, more than 865,200 vets still have claims pending with the VA, and well over half of them have been waiting for 125 days. Many advocates have called on Obama to take a more proactive approach at shrinking the backlog.
"The Commander-in-Chief must offer them clarity on how the backlog will end by 2015, what they should do while they wait to hear from the VA, and what concrete steps he will take to end the bureaucratic logjam that has helped cause this problem," IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff told Yahoo News.
Will it be enough?
Should the bill make it through the Senate and to Obama's desk, it will run counter to what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been saying in recent weeks. In May, he hinted that increasing copays or fees to TRICARE – the healthcare plan for veterans – could be one of the best ways to slash the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary under sequestration, notes U.S. News and World Report.