Friday, August 1, 2008

House Passes Increases for Veterans Mental Illness Treatment

House Passes Increases for Veterans Mental Illness Treatment
August 1, 2008
By a vote of 409-4 the House today passed legislation funding the Department of Veterans Affairs for FY 2009. The bill (HR 6599) includes $3.8 billion for mental illness treatment and $584 million for substance abuse treatment in the VA, significant increases over current year funding. Overall, the Veterans Health Administration budget is set at $40.8 billion for FY 2009 -- $1.6 billion more than the President requested and $3.9 billion more than current levels. It is projected that the VA will serve 5.8 million veterans in 2009.

For homeless veterans, HR 6599 allocates $130 million for the homeless grants and per diem program, rejecting a proposal from the Bush Administration to cut the program by $8 million. This allocation also includes $32 million to hire additional personnel as part of the joint HUD-VA "VASH" program for veterans supportive housing. A separate bill funding the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) appropriates an additional $75 million at HUD for rent subsidies, i.e. the housing side of this joint program.

The bill also includes $500 million for medical research at the VA, $38 million more than the President requested and $20 million more than was allocated in FY 2008. A full summary of HR 6599 can be found here.

Next Steps for the VA Budget
With House action on the VA spending bill, Congress has now adjourned for its summer recess and will not return to Washington until the week of September 8. In September, these will be efforts to complete action on HR 6599 before FY 2009 begins on October 1. However, the other FY 2009 discretionary spending bills - including those covering mental illness research, services and housing programs are unlikely to be passed before October 1. As a result these other programs are expected to be funded after October 1 at current FY 2008 levels - perhaps through March of 2009.

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