Mendacity, and the Color of Money

According to The Daily Caller,

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) expects to have more money for medical care than it can spend for the fifth fiscal year in a row.

In fact,

[The] VA carried over $1.449 billion in medical-care funding from fiscal year 2010 to 2011, $1.163 billion from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012, $637 million from fiscal year 2012 to 2013, and $543 million from fiscal year 2013 to 2014.

[The] VA expects to carry over $450 million in medical-care funding from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2015. VA received its full requested medical care appropriation of $54.6 billion this fiscal year, which is more than $10 billion more than it received four years ago.

Yet the AFGE, a Federal employee union, says that the VA is underfunded in the areas about which it cares. We’ve also seen this underfunding bit presented as an excuse for the failure of the VA to provide access to medical care—those secret waiting lists, for instance: the VA doesn’t have the funding to man the facilities to shorten/eliminate those waits.

But this isn’t contradictory. The VA is short of money here, and has an excess there, but it can’t just transfer the excess from there (the medical side for instance) to here (the AFGE’s identified shortfall side)—that’s a color of money problem: Federal funding that’s appropriated for a purpose requires Congressional approval to transfer the money to another purpose, even within Departments. It’s on Congress to stop overfunding one purpose and to stop underfunding another purpose.

And there’s this:

The Daily Caller reported that VA spent more than $3.5 million on furniture the night before the government shutdown on the last day of fiscal year 2013 so as not to lose that money in the department’s budget the next fiscal year.

This certainly looks shameful and shady—and it is, at bottom—but that’s not entirely the VA’s fault. Here it’s the case that, the VA’s medical care funding notwithstanding, in general Federal budgeting is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition: Departments cannot carry forward unused appropriated funds; they must spend the money in the fiscal year for which it was appropriated, or they lose the unspent funds.

These things are what come of a Byzantine budget process—it’s Congress’ failure of budgeting.

This does not, though, absolve the VA personnel of their mendacity in their failure to take care of our veterans as they’re charged to do. No amount of confusion from a labyrinthine budgeting process can excuse falsifying wait lists or simply not bothering, leaving our veterans without prompt care when it’s needed.

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