President’s 2017 Budget Cuts VA Kidney Research

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps fund more than 3400 investigators around the country who conduct cutting-edge veteran-focused research in many areas, including kidney disease. More than 3000 veterans are diagnosed with kidney failure each year, and 30,000 veterans are on dialysis.

The list of VA investigator contributions to research during the agency’s 90-year history is lengthy and includes the first long-term successful kidney transplant. The VA research program was a big winner in the 2016 budget deal, which increased its funding by $42 million, a 7.1% increase. In his 2017 budget proposal, President Barack Obama is again asking Congress for an increase of $30 million, 5% over the 2016 budget.

None of that funding would go to kidney research. In fact, the President’s budget proposal cuts kidney research funding in 2017 by more than $500,000, because the budget would invest an additional $65 million in the Million Veteran Program (MVP) in 2017. MVP will be the world’s largest genomic database, with the goal of studying how genes affect veterans’ health. To date, the VA has collected DNA samples from nearly 500,000 veteran volunteers. Most of the $65 million would be used for sequencing those DNA samples.

Since the President’s requested $30 million increase for the VA research program in 2017 would only fund half of the $65 million increase for MVP, the budget proposal cuts funding for kidney research and most other research areas to pay for the balance. ASN President Raymond C. Harris, MD, FASN, strongly denounced the proposal.

“While MVP is a worthy and noble initiative, investigator-initiated grants for kidney research and other VA research priorities shouldn’t be sacrificed to pay for it,” Dr. Harris said. “Too many veterans have kidney disease. We need better therapies for treating them, and the President’s 2017 budget request would evaporate the 2016 budget gains.”

Instead, the Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA) advocacy coalition is asking for the $30 million increase plus an additional $65 million for MVP so it does not come at the expense of other important veteran research like kidney disease. ASN serves on the executive committee of FOVA, which represents 80 academic institutions, patient organizations and medical professional associations, and veterans service organizations.

Have questions about kidney research funding or the federal budget? Email Grant at golan@asn-online.org. Your question could be the basis for the next Kidney News policy article.