They didn't pass the 2010 veterans' budget on time — for the 20th time in 23 years — but House lawmakers took a historic vote Thursday to enact legislation that would prevent disruption from similar budget lapses in the future.
By a 409-1 vote, the House gave final approval to HR 1016, a bill that would provide funding one year in advance for veterans medical programs, starting with fiscal 2011.
Advance funding would apply to medical services and support and facility programs, but not to other portions of the VA budget. Funds for benefits such as disability compensation and the GI Bill are not subject to disruptions because they do not come from annual appropriations.
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., the House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman, said veterans are hurt by delayed budgets in a variety of ways.
"Our veterans pay the price with fewer doctors, longer waiting times and more restricted access," Filner said.
The lone vote against the bill came from Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, ranking Republican on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, who wanted advance funding to also cover information technology and medical research.
To groups that have pushed for years for some protection from veterans funding disruptions, final passage is a big step.
"It looks like we are on the home stretch after more than a decade of pushing Congress to overhaul VA's funding mechanism," said Ryan Galluci of AmVets, one of the groups that make up the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform, an organization that made passage of the VA advance funding measure their top legislative priority for the year.
Final approval is expected next week when the Senate takes up the bill. President Barack Obama told veterans groups earlier this year that he supports advance funding, leading the groups to assume he will sign the measure.