April 14, 2015
The House Appropriations Committee today released the fiscal year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, which will be considered in subcommittee tomorrow. The legislation contains funding to house, train, and equip military personnel, provide housing and services to military families, and help maintain base infrastructure. The bill also funds veterans’ benefits and programs.
In total, the legislation provides $76.6 billion in discretionary funding – $4.6 billion above the fiscal year 2015 level. This represents a 5.6 percent increase over the fiscal year 2015 level for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – including increases for health care, benefit claims processing, the Board of Veterans Appeals, medical and prosthetic research, and information technology. Of this funding $58.7 billion was provided in the fiscal year 2015 appropriations bill. Military construction is increased by $904 million over the fiscal year 2015 enacted level, which allows for full funding of family housing, construction of hospitals and health facilities, and support for critical overseas investments.
Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers made the following statement on the legislation:
“This bill ensures that our nation's veterans, servicemen and women, and their families have the benefits and resources they richly deserve. It provides funding for essential construction projects to advance the effectiveness of our missions, allows military families access to the services they need every day, and goes above and beyond to ensure proper and timely benefits for our veterans. This legislation does the right thing in the right way, and I hope and expect it can move quickly through the legislative process," Chairman Rogers said.
Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Charlie Dent also commented on his bill:
“This legislation demonstrates our firm commitment to fully supporting the nation’s veterans and service members at every phase. While they are serving, we have them and their families covered, whether it's in the States, or at facilities in the Pacific, Africa or Europe. And we are supporting them when they become veterans – funding high-quality health care and increases to claims processing,” Chairman Dent added. “We owe this to our service members and vets and are committed to sustained oversight so that programs deliver what they promise, and taxpayers are well served by the investments we make."
The bill totals $76.6 billion – $4.6 billion above the fiscal year 2015 level and $1.2 billion below the President’s budget request. The increase will provide necessary funding for VA health care to meet growing needs.
Military Construction – The bill provides a total of $7.7 billion for military construction projects – an increase of $904 million above the enacted fiscal year 2015 level and $755 million below the President’s request. This includes funds for large and small construction and renovation projects on military bases within the U.S. and around the globe. Of the amount provided for Military Construction projects, $532 million is provided for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).
- Military Family Housing –The bill provides $1.4 billion to fund construction, operation and maintenance of military family housing for fiscal year 2016. This is $223 million above the fiscal year 2015 level and the same as the budget request. The funding will ensure quality housing is sustained for all 1,388,028 military families currently served by the program.
- Military Medical Facilities – The bill includes $607 million for construction and alterations for new or existing military medical facilities, an increase of $121 million above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. This funding will allow for continued support and care for 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries, including our wounded troops abroad.
- Department of Defense (DOD) Education Facilities – The bill includes $334 million for essential safety improvements and infrastructure work at 10 DOD Education Activities facilities located within the U.S. and overseas.
- Guard and Reserve – The bill includes $512 million for construction or alteration of Guard and Reserve facilities in 28 states, an increase of $85 million above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level.
- NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP) – The bill provides $150 million – #30 million over the President's request and $49.7 million below fiscal year 2015 – for infrastructure necessary for wartime, crisis, and peace support and deterrence operations, and training requirements. The funds will support responses to the challenges posed by Russia and to the risks and threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.
Veterans Affairs (VA) – The legislation includes a total of $163.2 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, an increase of $4.1 billion above the fiscal year 2015 level. This funding will help provide our nation’s veterans with the services and care they have earned from their dedicated service to the country.
Discretionary funding alone for Veterans programs in the bill totals $68.7 billion. Approximately $58.7 billion of this discretionary total was provided last year via advance funding in the fiscal year 2015 Appropriations bill. Further, in response to the administration request, the bill provides an additional $970 million in fiscal year 2016 funding to address unanticipated patient access challenges, additional health care services including those for hepatitis C, support services for caregivers of veterans, and ending homelessness.
- VA Medical Services –The bill funds VA medical services at $48.6 billion – providing for approximately 6.9 million patients to be treated in fiscal year 2016. Within this total, funding includes: $7.5 billion in mental health care services; $144 million in suicide prevention activities; $232 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; $6.7 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; and $250 million in rural health initiatives.
- VA Electronic Health Record – The bill contains $233 million for the modernization of the Veterans Affairs electronic health record system. To help ensure our veterans get proper care through the timely and accurate exchange of medical data between VA, DOD, and the private sector, the bill includes language restricting funding until the VA demonstrates progress on the system’s functionality and interoperability.
- Disability Claims Processing Backlog – The bill provides $290 million for the paperless claims processing system, $141 million for digital scanning of health records, and $26 million for centralized mail. In addition, the bill continues rigorous reporting requirements to track each regional office’s performance on claims processing. The bill also includes funding to support 770 new staff to tackle claims appeals and other needs resulting from the progress in reducing the claims backlog.
- Construction – Major and minor construction within the VA is funded at approximately $968 million. The bill provides funding for hospital replacement and allows the VA to continue to correct seismic safety issues and deficiencies. In response to egregious project mismanagement and cost overruns, the Committee has held major construction to the fiscal year 2015 funding lev level, and taken the oversight actions listed below.
- Oversight –The legislation includes provisions to increase oversight of taxpayer dollars at the VA, including limiting transfers between construction projects, reporting on bid savings, limiting changes in the scope of construction projects, and restricting the agency from taking certain spending actions without notifying Congress.
- VA Mandatory Funding – The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: veteran disability compensation programs for 4.7 million veterans and their survivors; education benefits for nearly 1.2 million veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 137,000 veterans.
- Advance Appropriations – The bill contains $63.3 billion in advance fiscal year 2017 funding for veterans’ medical programs– the same level as the President’s request. This funding will provide for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities, and ensure that our veterans have continued, full access to their medical care needs. For the first time, the bill includes $104 billion in advance funding for VA mandatory benefit programs, as requested in the President's budget.
Arlington National Cemetery – The legislation includes $71 million for the Arlington National Cemetery, an increase of $5 million from the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. In addition, the bill provides $30 million within military construction for Defense Access Roads to improve traffic flow and access to Fort Myer, and to increase the amount of land available for burials and interments.
For the complete text of the Subcommittee Draft of the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, please visit: /UploadedFiles/BILLS-114HR-SC-AP-FY2016-MilCon-SubcommitteeDraft.pdf