Biden threatens VA budget veto over abortion, gender-affirming care

by Vern Evans

President Joe Biden on Monday threatened to veto the House’s $360 billion appropriations plan for the Department of Veterans Affairs next year over restrictions on abortion and gender-affirming care services included in the measure, accusing lawmakers of “wasting time with partisan bills.”

The threat marks the second consecutive year White House officials have opposed the House’s initial draft of the Veterans Affairs budget over social issues. The measure is expected to pass the House largely along party lines later this week.

In a statement released by the White House, officials blasted the appropriations bill as “harming access to reproductive healthcare, threatening the health and safety of LGBTQI+ Americans, endangering marriage equality, hindering critical climate change initiatives, and preventing the administration from promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Along with a 10% boost in overall funding for VA programs and operations, the House Republicans appropriations plan includes language blocking department medical staff from conducting abortions or providing gender-affirming care.

Advocates supporting those services have insisted that both are critical to providing full health care to veterans. Republicans have accused VA leaders of politicizing department operations and diverting resources needed for other veteran care.

GOP lawmakers also included provisions in the bill which would block COVID-19 vaccine mandates for health care personnel and stop the department from reporting names of veterans deemed incompetent to handle their financial affairs to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, potentially denying them the right to own firearms.

Last year, similar social issue provisions were stripped out of the final VA budget bill after the White House issued its veto threat. Senate Democrats are unlikely to go along with the provisions this year either, although that chamber has yet to move ahead on its appropriations measures.

The appropriations process is expected to last through the summer and possibly past the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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