A new report from the Congressional Budget Office has reintroduced a previous cost-cutting proposal that hopes to reduce the federal deficit by cutting veterans benefits. The proposal, which was first made in 2017 and was vigorously opposed at the time by veterans groups, would in 2020 remove about 235,000 disabled vets from a VA program called Individual Unemployability.
The CBO report indicates that the proposal could save the federal government $47.6 billion over the course of the next decade. Those removed from the program would see their monthly income reduced by about $1,300.
AMVETS, a veterans group, has called on both the Trump administration and the Veterans Administration to reject the proposal, saying that it will anger and impact veterans.
Joe Chenelly, who is the director of AMVETS, noted that the administration should issue a statement at once repudiating the proposal. He added that, while they understand that the administration wants to cut government costs, this proposal should not be considered.
The Individual Unemployability program is for veterans who have a VA disability rating between 60%-100% and cannot work due to their disabilities. The program provides them with the highest possible compensatory benefits.
The report proposed removing veterans from the program once they turn 67, reasoning that they would then be able to receive Social Security benefits. The proposal was one of more than 120 in the CBO report, which is called “Options for Reducing the Deficit: 2019 to 2028.”
The CBO regularly offers lawmakers a list of various policy proposals. Just because they make a proposal does not mean that either the administration or Congress will consider it. But Chenelly noted that, because the proposal is now public, there is concern among vets that it could become law, which would have a significant financial impact upon them.
According to AMVETS and other veteran groups, thousands of vets voiced concern to them over the proposal when it was first considered in 2017 as part of President Trump’s 2018 federal budget. At the time, David Shulkin — who was then VA Secretary — rejected the proposal. But veterans have remained concerned about it.
Chenelly notes that veterans, in the form of hundreds of phone calls, emails and social media posts, made it clear that losing these veterans benefits would be devastating for them. They further expressed dangerous levels of anxiety and worry. He added that, because the proposal has once again become public, these levels of anxiety and worry could return. He believes that the Trump Administration could save these veterans a tremendous degree of angst if they make it clear once and for all that this proposal will never be considered.
As of Monday, the Trump administration has not commented on the newly reformulated proposal, and the Veterans Administration deferred all questions about the proposal to Congress.
The CBO report was released last Thursday. It comes at a time when the Trump administration is preparing to make budget recommendations for the 2020 fiscal year. Every February, the president sends a budget to Congress.
The CBO, in its report, also offered an alternative proposal. This would allow vets already enrolled in the program to keep their benefits while cutting off benefits at age 67 to those who enroll after December 2019. This option would provide $6.7 billion in savings over the next decade.
Other cuts to veterans benefits were proposed in the report as well. One proposal would cut compensation for the following medical conditions:
- Arteriosclerotic Heart Disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease\
- Crohn’s Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Uterine Fibroids
Another proposal would cut disability compensation for veterans by 30% when they become 67. The CBO further proposed cutting all benefits to vets who have a disability rating of 30% or less.
In October during a cabinet meeting, President Trump asked each cabinet head to propose cost-cutting ideas. This was in response to spending rises during the first years of his presidency. He suggested that they could cut as much as 5% of their budgets.
However, current Veterans Administration Secretary Robert Wilkie said last month that his department’s budget next year may be larger than this year’s one. More than $200 billion was allocated for it by Congress for the 2019 fiscal year, and their budget has steadily increased in the last 10 years.
Wilkie said that the president had made a campaign promise to support the Department of Veteran Affairs. He believes that the next budget for the department could be the largest in history.