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Veterans groups oppose Obama's $17.6 billion VA request

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: Acting Veteran Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson testifies during a hearing before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee July 24, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing on on 'Restoring Trust: The View of the Acting Secretary and the Veterans Community.' Alex Wong/Getty Images

Key veterans organizations on Friday said they oppose President Barack Obama's request for $17.6 billion in new funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs as something that will distract from efforts to reform the broken agency.

Representatives of the American Legion, American Veterans and Concerned Veterans for America released a joint statement that said the request for more money is a last-minute request that is making it more difficult for the House and Senate to negotiate a final VA reform bill.

Acting Veteran Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson has said he needs billions more to fix the health care crisis at the VA, but Republicans say it's unclear how the money would be spent, and key veterans groups came out against the request on Friday. Alex Wong/Getty Images

"Negotiations, which should happen in public, not behind closed doors, must stay focused on ensuring VA leadership is held accountable and veterans have timely access to care," the groups said.

"We urge Congress to take immediate action to regain their focus on ensuring the VA Secretary exercises their authority to hold management and staff accountable for their inappropriate behavior, and immediately stop the corruption and mismanagement within the VA," they added. "Before asking for more money, the VA must start making good on the nation’s promise to its honored veterans."

The groups said House and Senate-passed VA bills were focused on access by veterans to VA-provided health care, and accountability for VA officials involved in the VA health scandal. They said it is "disgraceful and utterly painful" to see lawmakers lose sight of those goals.

The statement is similar to one made by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday, when he said the request for funding was essentially asking Republicans to hand over billions to the VA with no clear plan on where the money would go.

"Bipartisan, bicameral negotiations were making good progress until the White House began demanding more money with no accountability and no strings attached," Boehner said. "I want to be clear: there’s going to be no blank check for the president and his allies."

Efforts by the House and Senate to negotiate a final VA seemed near collapse this week, after Senate negotiators said they saw no way forward toward a compromise with House GOP leaders.

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