VA asks for more funding amid controversy

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

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Friday, March 4, 2016
VA asks for more funding amid controversy
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The VA is asking for more tax money while defending one of the government's most embattled agencies.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Top officials from the Veterans Administration on the hot seat; they're asking for more tax money while defending one of the government's most embattled agencies.

Interrupting the usual tedium of a Washington budget hearing Thursday, Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk showed a giant photo of army veteran Tom Young from Des Plaines and his two young daughters. Young was used as an example of dysfunction at the veterans administration. An agency that gave Young the runaround before he took his own life. It was against that backdrop that the VA asked for more money.

"We will continue to develop and expand our mental health system with the goal to reduce the end of unacceptable veteran suicides," said Dr. David J. Shulkin, undersecretary, Department of Veterans Affairs.

Some having returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, the VA last pegged the number of veterans committing suicide last pegged at 22 per day.

"We know that services and benefits for veterans do not peak until roughly four decades after a conflict ends. Therefore, more resources will be required to ensure the VA can provide timely high quality health care into the future," Shulkin said.

The senate subcommittee that determines VA healthcare funding on Thursday asked for a more than six percent hike for veterans' medical care compared to last year. The 2017 increase would drive VA health funding to $65 billion.

"The demand for benefits and service from veterans of all eras continues to increase and will continue to increase decades after conflicts end," said Danny Pummill, Veterans Benefits Administration.

"Over the weekend I met with the family of Illinois Army specialist Tom Young who served two tours in Iraq, this 30-year-old father of Vivian and Maggie called your suicide hotline looking for help but was sent to voice mail," said Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk.

Tonight at 10PM: The ABC I-Team looks into what happened next. A day after Young called the VA crisis hotline and was sent to voicemail, he was found dead on the Metra tracks northwest of Chicago.