The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has reduced its chronic backlog of veterans’ disability claims – deemed unacceptable by President Barack Obama when he campaigned for office – but so far, the agency is struggling to meet its self-imposed deadline of eliminating long wait times by 2015. (Glantz, 7/23) Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said Thursday he’s confident that Congress will act soon to address a looming budget crisis that could force his agency to shut down some VA hospitals, freeze hiring and take other belt-tightening steps. During a visit to the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, McDonald expressed optimism that by the end of next week Congress will endorse transferring up to $3 billion from the Veterans Choice program to close the Department of Veterans Affairs’ budget gap. (Callahan, 7/23) The Veterans Health Administration has 41,500 job vacancies for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals across its sprawling health care system while it struggles to provide timely medical care for veterans, according to records obtained and analyzed by USA TODAY. (Hoyer and Zoroya, 7/23) The Associated Press: VA Secretary Optimistic Congress Will Plug VA’s Budget Gap A new multibillion-dollar funding crisis has surfaced at the Department of Veterans Affairs that threatens the health care of thousands of America’s military members if not immediately fixed. Members of Congress lambasted the VA on Wednesday for hiding the details of a $2.5 billion budget shortfall that could force some VA hospitals to shut their doors as soon as next month — leaving hundreds of American military members without a place to go for their medical needs. (Pergram, 7/23) The Center For Investigative Reporting: VA Struggling With Promise To End Long Benefits Waits This Year USA Today: VA Has 41,500 Unfilled Medical Jobs, Forcing Vets Into Costly Private Care Fox News: VA Hospitals In Danger Of Closing Unless Lawmakers Fix Newest Funding Mess Congress May Act Soon To Shore Up VA Budget With $3B Injection, VA Secretary McDonald Says The Department of Veteran Affairs’ $2.5 billion budget shortfall has raised the risk of some VA hospitals closing as well as employee furloughs. The beleaguered agency has also made little progress decreasing vets’ wait times for health care or in hiring for 41,500 open medical positions. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.