March 22, 2016
The House Appropriations Committee today released the fiscal year 2017 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 $81.6 billion in discretionary funding – $1.8 billion above the fiscal year 2016 level.
Within this total, funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is increased by 3 percent over the fiscal year 2016 level – including additional funding to address management problems and health care shortages, and to increase the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of its services to veterans. Of this funding, $63.3 billion was provided via an advance in the fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill.
Military construction is increased by $250 million over the request, fully funding family housing, construction of hospitals and health facilities, and critical overseas investments.
Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers made the following statement on the legislation:
“Once again, the Committee is getting off to a fast and productive start. This Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill is a critically important piece of legislation that will provide the resources our veterans and servicemen and women need and deserve,” Chairman Rogers said. “This bill makes investments to address many problems at the VA – including closing service loopholes, cutting red tape and increasing efficiency, and providing good oversight over spending so that these dollars are used for our veterans, not wasted on mismanagement.
“It also provides funds so the men and women fighting for our country and their families have the facilities and services that they need every day. Our nation must have its best foot forward to be successful in our missions abroad and to care for those who make personal sacrifices here at home,” Chairman Rogers continued.
Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Charlie Dent also commented on his bill:
“This legislation upholds our nation’s promise to care for our troops, veterans, and military families who have endured personal sacrifices to keep us safe at home and strong abroad. It provides a robust increase in funding for medical care and benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to keep pace with demand. Its provisions will improve the quality of life for our service members and their families while they’re serving and meet their needs as they return to their home communities,” remarked Chairman Dent. “It will also address concerns raised by veterans across the country by facilitating improvements in the VA’s claims and appeals processes and maintain the VA’s leadership in cutting edge medical research programs. Our veterans deserve the best care we can provide, and this legislation will deliver that while simultaneously enhancing oversight for patients and taxpayers alike.”
The bill totals $81.6 billion – $1.8 billion above the fiscal year 2016 level and $1.2 billion below the President’s budget request.
Military Construction – The bill provides a total of $7.9 billion for military construction projects – a decrease of $305 million below the enacted fiscal year 2016 level and $250 million above the President’s request. The decrease is primarily due to Department of Defense (DOD) decisions to prioritize readiness activities, and the Administration’s scheduled reductions to our military force.
This includes funds for large and small construction and renovation projects on military bases within the U.S. and around the globe. Of the total amount provided for military construction, $172 million is provided for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and European Reassurance Initiative projects.
- Military Family Housing – The bill provides $1.3 billion to fund construction, operation and maintenance of military family housing for fiscal year 2017. This is $84 million below the fiscal year 2016 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 $304 million for construction and alterations for new or existing military medical facilities, which is the same level as the President’s budget request, and a decrease of $303 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. This funding will allow for continued support and care for 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries, including our wounded troops abroad.
- DOD Education Facilities – The bill includes $246 million for essential safety improvements and infrastructure work at four DOD Education Activities facilities located within the U.S. and overseas.
- Guard and Reserve – The bill includes $673 million for construction or alteration of Guard and Reserve facilities in 21 states, an increase of $122 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level.
- NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP) – The bill provides $178 million – the same as the President’s request and $43 million above fiscal year 2016 – 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.
- Guantanamo Bay – The legislation continues language to prohibit the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and a provision to prohibit funding for any facility within the U.S. to house detainees.
Veterans Affairs (VA) – The legislation includes a total of $176.1 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, an increase of $13.4 billion above the fiscal year 2016 level. This funding will help address many of the problems currently facing the VA, and provide for better and increased access to care for our veterans.
Discretionary funding alone for VA programs in the bill totals $73.5 billion, an increase of $2.1 billion, or 3 percent, above the fiscal year 2016 level. Approximately $63.3 billion of this discretionary total was provided last year via advance funding in the fiscal year 2016 Appropriations bill. Further, in response to the Administration request, the bill provides an additional $850 million in fiscal year 2017 funding to address additional health care needs such as treatment of hepatitis C, long-term care for veterans, support services for caregivers of veterans, and to fight homelessness among veterans and their families.
- Oversight – Due to troubling mismanagement reports at the VA, a recent history of wasteful spending, and to increase the efficiency and quality of care to our veterans, the legislation includes significant oversight and accountability provisions. Some of these provisions include 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.
To stop taxpayer funded rewards to under-performing or poorly performing employees, the legislation also prohibits all VA Senior Executive Service managers from receiving bonuses.
- VA Medical Services – The bill funds VA medical services at $52.5 billion – providing for approximately 7.0 million patients to be treated in fiscal year 2017. Within this total, funding includes: $7.8 billion in mental health care services; $164 million in suicide prevention activities; $284 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; $7.2 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; and $250 million in rural health initiatives.
VA Electronic Health Record – The bill contains $260 million for the modernization of the VA electronic health record system. To help ensure our veterans get proper care through the timely and accurate exchange of medical data between the VA, DOD, and the private sector, the bill includes language restricting funding until the VA has certified interoperability of the system with DOD, and requires that the VA meet milestones regarding functionality and management.
Disability Claims Processing Backlog – The bill provides $180 million for the paperless claims processing system, $153 million for digital scanning of health records, and $27 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 of $156 million, a $46 million increase over the fiscal year 2016 level, for the Board of Veterans Appeals to support 242 new staff to tackle claims appeals, which have been ballooning as the number of claims decisions has increased.
Construction – Major and minor construction within the VA is funded at $900 million, as requested by the Administration. The bill continues the requirement that a non-VA entity manage VA construction projects that cost over $100 million, and provides funding for that purpose.
VA Mandatory Funding – The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: veteran disability compensation programs for 4.8 million veterans and their survivors; education benefits for nearly 1.1 million veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 140,000 veterans.
Advance Appropriations – The bill contains $66.4 billion in advance fiscal year 2018 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. The bill includes $103.9 billion in advance funding for VA mandatory benefit programs, as requested in the President's budget.
For the complete text of the Subcommittee Draft of the FY 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, please visit: /UploadedFiles/BILLS-114HR-SC-AP-FY2017-MilCon-SubcommitteeDraft.pdf