Exclusive: VA Secretary May Back Off Proposed Cuts To Benefits Today

news

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin will express his openness to jettisoning a controversial plan to cut “individual unemployability” benefits for older veterans in his Senate testimony this afternoon, sources tell Task & Purpose.

Shulkin is set to testify in a hearing on the department’s budget before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs at 2:30 PM today, along with representatives of the nation’s largest veteran service organizations. And while those groups are on the same page as Shulkin in urging Congress to expand VA’s funding, the department’s proposed cuts to individual unemployability (IU) have become a source of tension and anger in the veterans community.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the discussions tell Task & Purpose that in a closed session with several senators on June 13, Shulkin indicated that he had permission from the White House to consider junking the IU cuts — if he could find “alternative ways to save money” in the VA budget, according to one of those sources.

“We certainly hope the Administration reverses its position on revoking IU benefits for retirement aged veterans,” Carlos Fuentes, national legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told T&P.; “We’ve heard from thousands of veterans who would be impacted if the proposal were enacted.”

Although the Trump administration has proposed a 6% increase in VA’s budget, most of the new funding goes to expanding the department’s Choice program, expanding private health-care options for vets in need. The Trump budget proposal offsets much of that spending by proposing cuts to certain veterans’ services, and IU was one of the most heavily impacted programs.

The IU benefit is essentially a kicker for veterans with a 60% to 100% disability rating whose disabilities keep them from obtaining gainful employment. IU augments their regular disability benefits, enabling vets with lower ratings to collect the highest disability amount for the duration of their joblessness.

A single vet with a 60% disability rating can collect up to $2,915 monthly under the program.

Under the Trump budget plan, vets who reach Social Security age would have their IU benefits drastically reduced — even though their Social Security payments are generally very low, since they’ve been unemployed and unable to make significant contributions through their paychecks. That single vet’s payout could drop from $2,915 to $1,062, according to a recent Stars & Stripes analysis.

“Frankly, we’re extremely alarmed by this provision in the budget proposal, because this is the opposite of what President Trump promised veterans,” John Rowan, national director of Vietnam Veterans of America, said in a statement after the plan was unveiled in May. The IU reduction, he added, “abandons many of the most severely disabled veterans of the Vietnam generation and could make thousands of elderly veterans homeless.”

Shulkin has been sensitive to veterans’ backlash against the IU cuts.

“I understand that there is a lot of passion on this, and we will have plenty of time to work with Congress and with our veteran service organizations to make sure that we're getting this right,” he told reporters in a White House press conference late last month.

In an exclusive interview with Task & Purpose on June 12, Shulkin didn’t directly address individual unemployability, but stressed that keeping the confidence of veterans on this and other issues was a national security priority.

“If we don’t make sure that veterans know that when we send them off to war, that when they come back that we have their back, that they’re taken care of, fewer and fewer people, I think, are gonna raise their hand and go off and voluntarily agree to put their lives at risk,” he said.

Approached for comment Wednesday, a VA spokesman told Task & Purpose: "We have no announcements to make."

WATCH NEXT:

VA/Robert Turtil
(AP Photo/South Bend Tribune, Greg Swiercz)

Your humble Pentagon correspondent has never been one of the "cool kids" in the world of Washington media, and never has that been more evident than in my failed attempts to interview Navy veteran Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and one of the roughly 50,000 Democrats running for president.

To the media, Buttigieg is so hot right now that he could melt the stealth coating off an F-35 – which is actually not as hard as it sounds. He is fluent in more forms of communication than C-3PO – in April, he offered his condolences to the French people for the Notre Dame fire in perfect French. He's had no problem getting media coverage from all sorts of media outlets, including National Public Radio, the New York Times, or even Fox News.

Your intrepid Pentagon correspondent was briefly on Mayor Pete's schedule, when his director of campaign operations Max Harris set up an interview for Feb. 26. But less than an hour later, Harris emailed back to say he might have to reschedule the interview due to scheduling conflicts.

Four months of silence followed. (To be fair, his campaign manager Lis Smith did confirm in March that Buttigieg had formed an exploratory committee to run for president.)

Read More Show Less
Department of Veterans Affairs photo via Military.com

Editor's Note: This article by Richard Sisk originally appeared on Military.com a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The union representing 260,000 Department of Veterans Affairs employees recently won a "cease and desist" arbitration ruling against the department's posting of lengthy lists of firings, suspensions and other disciplinary actions in violation of the Privacy Act.

Read More Show Less
ISNA/Handout via REUTERS

The two oil tankers crippled in attacks in the Gulf of Oman last week that Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Iran are being assessed off the coast off the United Arab Emirates before their cargos are unloaded, the ships' operators said on Sunday.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Army/Spc. Rashene Mincy

For retired Sgt 1st Class Confessor Bermudez Jr., Pvt. Dorian Bermudez and Capt. Timothy Peters, watching their fathers' military service has helped inspire their own military careers.

For Father's Day, each took time to reflect on what stood out to them during their fathers' careers and how their fathers have supported them as they, too, have joined the military.

Read More Show Less
U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys

A U.S. military drone was shot down over Yemen on June 6, and just a week later, another MQ-9 Reaper was targeted over the Gulf of Oman on June 13, according to a U.S. Central Command statement.

Read More Show Less