Backlash forces VA to halt plan to divert funding for homeless vets

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  • The Department of Veterans Affairs has put on hold its plan to slash funding for a key program that provides housing to homeless veterans. VA Secretary David Shulkin last week reportedly told VA advocates and state officials in a phone call that the $460 million program would essentially end. But after backlash from Congress and activists, the agency now has reversed itself.  Shulkin’s new position, in a statement to the Washington Post: “There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support [VA] homeless programs.”  (Washington Post)


  • VA Secretary Shulkin has called on Congress to find a solution for the Veterans Choice Program — even if it’s a temporary one. The VA Choice program is expected to run out of funding by the end of the year. House and Senate lawmakers have several legislative options to update and change VA’s Choice and Community Care programs. But the full House and Senate haven’t passed any of them yet. (Federal News Radio)


  • Federal actuaries have issued a report showing the growth in health care spending has slowed down a little. The new figures come from the chief actuary of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Spending. They show that nationally, health spending rose 4.3 percent last year. That’s down from 5.8 percent in 2015. That translates to $1.1 trillion. Spending by Medicare and Medicaid grew more slowly than the average, at less than 4 percent. Those programs spent nearly 20 percent in the two prior years. (CMS)


  • With funding for the federal government running out at midnight Friday, the Office of Management and Budget said it is preparing for the eventuality of a partial government shutdown. OMB Press Secretary Meghan Burris said the administration held a call with agency officials on Dec. 1 to discuss plans if the continuing resolution should expire. OMB said most agencies — 105 of 145 — have not updated their contingency plans for a partial shutdown since 2015. (Federal News Radio)


  • The Pentagon has urged Congress to pass the FY 2018 defense appropriations bill before the current continuing resolution expires. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Robert Manning said the men and women of the department deserve the certainty such a move would make. In the meantime, more than 40 defense industry leaders have called on Congress to avert a budget crisis. In the letter, the industry leaders said delaying the Defense Department budget will not only affect the military’s readiness, but also those who depend upon military business. (Federal News Radio)


  • Air Force officials said they are starting a zero-based review as they begin early work on designing their budget for fiscal year 2020. In a memo to the service this week, the Air Force secretary and chief of staff said they plan to question the relevance of every single Air Force program, how much is spent on it, and how many personnel are associated with it. Officials said it’s the first time the service has conducted a zero-based review in the last 20 years, calling it a necessary step to deal with limited resources.  (Air Force)


  • A Navy captain who once commanded a destroyer squadron has become the latest to face charges in military court in connection with the long-running “Fat Leonard” scandal. Capt. John F. Steinberger appeared briefly this week for arraignment on charges including conspiracy, violation of a lawful order, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, graft, and bribery.(


  • Lawmakers have continued to raise concerns about the planned reorganization of the State Department. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.), both members of the Foreign Relations Committee, sent a letter to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan detailing their concerns the reorganization would negatively affect State’s diplomatic capacity and national security. The lawmakers asked Sullivan to ensure State is more transparent about the reorganization plans and end the current hiring freeze. (Sen. Ben Cardin)


  • Agencies are facing their third deadline under the Homeland Security Department’s binding operational directive from September. And now House Science, Space, and Technology Committee members want to know the status of the effort to remove Kaspersky Lab software from federal networks. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas)  wrote to DHS seeking details on a variety of topics, including all communications DHS has had with Kaspersky and a list of agencies who have not met the requirements of the directive. The committee asked for responses and a briefing by Dec. 19. (House Science Committee)