WASHINGTON (AP) — A House subcommittee's plan to cut the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs by more than $1.4 billion next year will "cause veterans to suffer," VA Secretary Robert McDonald said Tuesday.
Testifying at a Senate hearing, McDonald said a spending plan approved by a House Appropriations subcommittee on veterans affairs was "inadequate" to the growing needs of veterans.
The subcommittee's plan would cut veterans' medical care by $690 million, the equivalent of 70,000 fewer veterans receiving VA medical care than under President Barack Obama's budget proposal, McDonald said.
The House plan also would eliminate funding for four major construction projects, including a planned rehabilitation therapy building in St. Louis, and eliminate planned cemetery expansions in four states and Puerto Rico, McDonald said.
The GOP budget plan "will cause veterans to suffer," McDonald told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. "It means fewer veterans will get care."
McDonald's comments came as Obama's budget director, Shaun Donovan, sent a letter to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee objecting to the subcommittee plan. The full appropriations panel is set to vote Wednesday on the $163.2 billion proposal for the VA.
Donovan said the White House has "serious concerns" about the House plan, which he said would harm medical care for tens of thousands of veterans and reduce VA's ability to plan and build new facilities to replace aging structures across the country.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, said the spending plan approved by the panel last week "demonstrates our firm commitment to fully supporting the nation's veterans and service members at every phase," from health care to claims processing for veterans' benefits.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., told McDonald he was concerned that the VA had given more than $60,000 in bonuses to the department's top construction executive, Glenn Haggstrom, who retired last month amid an internal investigation of delays and massive cost overruns at the Denver veterans hospital.
"If we are giving incompetent people like that a bonus, how can we take care of our veterans? Kirk asked McDonald.