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Budget Calls For 4 Percent Spending Increase At VA

By KEVIN FREKING

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ President Barack Obama's budget proposal will include an additional $2.5 billion to attack a growing backlog of veterans disability claims, a problem officials said is likely to worsen in coming months.

All told, the Department of Veterans Affairs would see a 4 percent increase, to $63.5 billion, for such items as medical care and research, technology and new construction. That does not include disability and education benefits.

The president is also going to ask Congress, in his budget proposal next week, to make permanent tax credits for employers who hire unemployed veterans. The unemployment rate for veterans who have served since the onset of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was 9.9 percent last year.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough told reporters Friday that more money for the VA in tight budgetary times reflects Obama's commitment to veterans.

About 600,000 disability claims have been pending more than 125 days. McDonough said reducing that number tops the White House's priority list.

"I think I can say without fear of contradiction that you will be seeing additions to the backlog for the coming months," he said.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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