Senate Gives Boost to Veterans' Medical Care

The Senate on Thursday approved a big boost in the budget for veterans' medical care.

The measure, approved by a 98-0 vote, would increase spending by 21 percent, or about $4 billion, to $23.3 billion, for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. More veterans (search) are seeking care and the cost per patient is on the rise, too.

About $2 billion of the increase was in response to a midyear request by the Bush administration. It was added to the budget as emergency funds not subject to the $843 billion budget set for the annual appropriations bills.

The Veterans Affairs Department acknowledged in April that it had underestimated 5 percent over last year, compared with the predicted growth of about 2 percent.

The veterans' budget was folded into an $83 billion measure that also funds military construction projects.

The Senate has now passed all but four of its 12 annual appropriations bills. Ahead are contentious debates await on measures funding the Pentagon and the departments of Labor and Health and Human Services.

Despite the progress, the Oct. 1 deadline for finishing this year's appropriations cycle is approaching quickly. Lawmakers are working on a stopgap spending bill that would fund agencies at or slightly below current levels through mid-November.