By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department will seek further budget increases to deal with medical appointment backlogs and the mounting costs of caring for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, VA Secretary Bob McDonald said on Thursday.
The increases will be requested on top of about $16 billion in emergency funds that Congress approved last summer amid a scandal over veterans languishing on long waiting lists for care at VA clinics and hospitals.
"We need more," McDonald told a media breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
He said costs of caring for veterans keep rising because of claims for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects veterans of conflicts all the way back to World War II, and illnesses related to the Agent Orange defoliant used during the Vietnam War. He added that as veterans age, they have more medical problems.
He noted that the VA is still providing benefits to one dependent of a Civil War veteran and about 100 dependents of the 1898 Spanish-American War.
"Forty years from now is going to be the peak need for the veterans who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq," McDonald said. "We need to start building that capability now. We're going to be asking for budget increases in order to do that, to provide that capability."
McDonald, the former Procter & Gamble Co chief executive who took over as VA secretary in August after former Army general Eric Shinseki resigned the post amid the care delay scandal, declined to specify the size of the increase.
The VA's budget has increased every year during the Obama administration from about $100 billion in fiscal 2009 to about $154 billion for the 2014 fiscal year, largely as a result of decisions to allow medical claims for PTSD and Agent Orange conditions.
While the $16 billion in emergency funds approved in July will allow the VA to hire more doctors and nurses, open new clinics and expand private care, he said it will not allow the hiring of more people to deal with a backlog of disability claims for veterans.
(Reporting By David Lawder; Editing by David Gregorio)