VA secretary assures Congress veterans’ benefits not touched by sequestration

Posted at 7:19 PM, Jul 25, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-25 19:19:11-04

“Our warriors are trained not to fail on the battlefield, and we must not fail them on the home front.”

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta urged congressional leaders Wednesday to put partisan bickering aside so generations of military veterans will be properly taken care of.

The biggest issue right now--avoiding more than $500 million in defense cuts starting January 1st.

“I sure as hell hope sequestration doesn’t happen. It would be a disaster for the Defense Department,” said Secretary Panetta.

When it comes to the Veterans Affairs Department, there has been confusion if the same 10% across-the-board cuts would apply.

So in the hearing, Chesapeake Congressman Randy Forbes brought the question directly to Secretary of the VA, Eric Shinseki.

“We have been informed that VA would be exempt from sequestration with the exception of administrative costs,” said Shinseki.

The secretary could not explain what administrative costs means, but veterans groups have repeatedly been assured by President Obama that their benefits will not be affected.

Still, the Secretary of Defense acknowledged tough times ahead for those trying to get into the VA disability system.

“This system is going to be overwhelmed, let’s not kid anybody, it’s already overwhelmed.”

The good news out of the hearings--the VA and the DoD will finally be combining all of their electronic medical records for veterans, making access to healthcare more streamlined.

Hampton Roads is one of the test sites for the new program, so local vets will see the benefits sooner than the rest of the U.S.