WASHINGTON – A new multibillion-dollar funding crisis has surfaced at the Department of Veterans Affairs that threatens the health care of thousands of America’s military members if not immediately fixed.
Members of Congress lambasted the VA on Wednesday for hiding the details of a $2.5 billion budget shortfall that could force some VA hospitals to shut their doors as soon as next month -- leaving hundreds of American military members without a place to go for their medical needs.
Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs committee, said Wednesday he was shocked by the magnitude of the VA’s problems and outraged that members of Congress were kept in the dark for so long about the financial situation.
The Florida Republican told VA Secretary Robert McDonald that “someone took their eye off the ball here,” and said the financial problems should have been reported immediately.
"This is not a `flying-under-the-radar' issue, yet I feel that is exactly how VA and the president have treated it in an effort to avoid responsibility," Miller told McDonald at Wednesday’s hearing.
Miller called for President Obama to step in personally to ensure the VA’s problems are being addressed.
News of the VA’s financial shortfall came only hours after Obama told “The Daily Show” that it is “entirely fair” to conclude he’d failed to meet his own five-year timetable to reform the VA’s medical system, which included cutting down the massive wait times veterans have had to endure. At the same time, Obama said people shouldn't be "surprised" there are "gaps" in the government "if we're under-resourcing" it.
The VA said last week it may be forced to close some hospitals unless Congress closes the $2.5 million shortfall caused by a jump in demand by veterans for health care, which includes, but isn’t limited to, $80,000 treatments per round for the deadly hepatitis C virus.
Congress approved a sweeping overhaul of the department last year, which included a measure to give veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility the option to seek private treatment for its medical issues.
The $6 billion pot of money called “Non-VA Care,” where veterans could go for treatment outside the system, is now basically drained.
McDonald told lawmakers they need to approve a move that would give him the authority to shift money from one VA fund to another in order to keep the system operating. If that doesn’t happen, he warned, VA facilities would be forced to start shutting down hospitals in August.
But the VA continues to be plagued by missteps and mismanagement, including an internal report that indicates nearly one-third of veterans with pending applications for VA health care have likely already died.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are weighing their VA options.
Lawmakers could approve the transfer of money and drop it into the pending defense authorization bill. There’s also been talk of creating a separate supplemental spending bill. Lawmakers might also try to latch the money switchover to a “must-pass” bill, such as the highway transportation bill.
Fox News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.