Vets salute Obama on funding

By Kara Rowland, The Washington Times

President Obama is struggling to fulfill campaign promises to pass energy and immigration measures, but he’s poised to notch another victory for a stump-speech vow: to make sure veterans’ funding isn’t held hostage to the government’s bad finances.

While watchdogs caution there’s still a long list of problems for veterans, all sides agree the President Obama has made big strides on promises he made in 2008 when competing for military votes against Republican nominee and Vietnam veteran Sen. John McCain – to fully fund the Veterans Administration, expand access to care in rural areas and improve treatment for mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The accessibility with this administration has been outstanding. They listen, they reach out to the veterans’ service organizations, they see the value in communicating,” Peter Gaytan, executive director of the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans’ organization, with 2.5 million members.

Even amid competing priorities and a deepening recession, Mr. Obama last year managed to secure the biggest increase in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs in 30 years. And as Congress begins writing spending bills for 2011, despite a spending freeze on some other domestic spending, he’s looking for more aid for veterans.

Mr. Obama’s proposed VA budget for fiscal 2011 asks for $125 billion – a 10 percent jump from what Congress enacted for 2010, which was itself more than 16 percent more than 2009. The discretionary portion of next year’s budget request – the part the administration and Congress have the most direct control over – is up nearly 20 percent since 2009, to total $60.3 billion.

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