WASHINGTON, April 10 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama's Veterans Affairs Department budget includes $63.5 billion for care and benefits for military veterans and families, the White House said.
The budget, unveiled Wednesday, also includes $3.1 billion in estimated medical care collections for a total budget authority of about $66.5 billion.
"This funding will continue to drive improvements in efficiency and responsiveness at VA, enabling the department to better serve veterans and their families at a time when much is being asked of our men and women in uniform," the budget document said. "The budget supports efforts to ensure we meet the needs of today's veteran population, and invests in the continued modernization of VA to meet 21st century challenges."
The budget blueprint includes $54.6 billion for medical care, a 7.9 percent increase over the 2012 enacted level. It also proposes $55.6 billion in advance appropriations for the VA medical care program in 2015, which would offer timely, predictable funding for VA's medical care.
Nearly $7 billion was provided to maintain the department's focus on expanding and improving mental health services for veterans.
The budget invests $1.4 billion to provide VA services for homeless and at-risk veterans. The budget explanation said the funds would help combat veterans' homelessness through collaborative partnerships with local governments, non-profit organizations, and the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Labor.
Also included is $136 million for a Veterans Claims Intake Program that would allow VA to directly receive and convert paper evidence, such as medical records, into a digital format for increased efficiency in claims-processing.
Specifically, the budget request includes $155 million for the Veterans Benefit Management System, designed to reduce processing time and claims backlog, long a complaint by benefits applicants. These effort support VA's work to eliminate the claims backlog and achieving the agency's goal of processing all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy in 2015, the budget said.
Also included is funding to build three of five national veterans cemeteries. In 2011, the VA reduced the population threshold used to determine where new national veterans cemeteries should be built from 170,000 to 80,000 veterans living within 75 miles of a potential location. Under this lower threshold, VA will develop five new cemeteries and provide a nearby national cemetery option to at least 550,000 more veterans.
The new national cemeteries would be located in St. Augustine and Tallahassee in Florida, and in Omaha.