Appropriations Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2020 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Funding Bill
WASHINGTON — The House Appropriations Committee today released the draft fiscal year 2020 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies funding bill, which will be considered in subcommittee on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. The legislation funds the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, and other related agencies, including the American Battle Monuments Commission and Armed Forces Retirement Home.
In total, the legislation provides $108.1 billion in discretionary funding – $10 billion above the fiscal year 2019 enacted level. This includes $921 million in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding as well as $2 billion for emergency needs related to Hurricanes Michael and Florence at military bases in North Carolina and Florida.
Within this total, discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is increased by $7.8 billion – nine percent – over the fiscal year 2019 enacted level, including funding to increase access to services for veterans, and to increase oversight and accountability within the department. This includes the advance funding provided for veterans in the fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill.
Funding for military construction is increased by $207 million – two percent over the fiscal year 2019 enacted level. This funding will provide needed resources for our servicemembers to face existing and emerging threats, and to care for military families.
“This year’s funding bill makes tremendous investments in our veterans and military families, rebuilds our national security infrastructure, and soundly rejects President Trump’s attempt to steal funds from our armed services to pay for a nativist, border wall boondoggle,” said House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “This bill provides robust funding to support and improve the quality of life for servicemembers and their families, and continues the fight against Russian aggression and emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa. Closer to home, it addresses base recovery needs in North Carolina and Florida from devastating hurricanes and provides rigorous oversight and whistleblower shields to protect our veterans. It also targets additional funding at shoddy housing conditions, and a close monitoring of how VA claims are being processed, while also addressing crucial needs in suicide prevention, women’s health and homelessness. In short, this bill builds a stronger VA and military. I will work vigorously, and across the aisle, to pass this crucial funding, and I am committed to ensuring our veterans and military families are protected, respected and supported.”
“This bill honors our commitment to the men and women in our armed services, to our veterans, and to the tens of thousands of military families who sacrifice every day for our nation,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey. “We are investing billions more to ensure our servicemembers have the facilities they need to confront emerging threats, and to guarantee that their families have access to clean, safe, and reliable housing. We are also upholding our promise to America’s veterans by increasing funding for key priorities including healthcare access for women veterans, suicide prevention, benefits, and homeless assistance, so that those who served receive the care and resources they have more than earned.”
A summary of the draft fiscal year 2020 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs funding bill is below. The full text of the bill is here. The subcommittee markup will be webcast live and linked from https://appropriations.house.gov/events/markups.
Military Construction – The bill provides a total of $10.5 billion for military construction projects – an increase of $207 million above the enacted fiscal year 2019 level. In addition to this amount, $921 million is provided in OCO funding for projects in countries with ongoing U.S. operations and the European Deterrence Initiative to combat Russian aggression. These funds will provide for the construction of facilities to enable our military to fight current and emerging threats, to support increased troop levels, and to sustain services for military families. This includes operational facilities, training facilities, hospitals, family housing, National Guard readiness centers, barracks, and other important resources. In total, 145 military construction projects across the country and overseas receive funding in the bill.
- Military Family Housing – The bill provides $1.5 billion to fund construction, operation, and maintenance of military family housing for fiscal year 2020. This is $117.8 million below the fiscal year 2019 level and $140.8 million above the budget request. The additional funds are provided to address family housing issues such as mold, vermin, and lead in military family housing. This funding will ensure quality housing for all 2,006,171 military families currently served by the program.
- Guard and Reserve – The bill includes $502.4 million for construction or alteration of Guard and Reserve facilities in states and territories, the same as the budget request.
- NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP) – The bill provides $172 million, $28 million above the budget request, 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 Russian aggression as well as the risks and threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.
Department of Veterans Affairs – The legislation includes a total of $217.5 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for VA, an increase of $20.3 billion above the fiscal year 2019 level. This funding will help address many of the problems currently facing VA and provide for better and increased access to care for our veterans. Discretionary funding alone for VA programs in the bill totals $94.3 billion, an increase of $7.8 billion above the fiscal year 2019 level. Approximately $75.6 billion of this discretionary total was provided last year via advance funding in the fiscal year 2019 Appropriations bill. These additional funds will provide resources for important priorities within VA, such as healthcare access for women veterans, suicide prevention, claims processing, homeless prevention and care, opioid addiction, rural health, and medical research.
- VA Medical Care – The bill funds VA medical care at $80.4 billion – providing for approximately seven million patients to be treated in fiscal year 2020. Within this total, funding includes: $9.4 billion in mental healthcare services; $222 million in suicide prevention outreach activities; $582 million for gender-specific care for women; $1.9 billion for homeless assistance programs; $397 million for opioid abuse prevention; and $270 million in rural health initiatives.
- VA Electronic Health Record – The bill contains $1.6 billion to continue implementation of the VA electronic health record system. This will ensure the implementation of the contract creating an electronic record system for VA that will be interoperable with the system being developed for DOD. These two identical systems will ensure our veterans get proper care, with timely and accurate medical data transferred between the VA, DOD, and the private sector. The bill also continues GAO oversight of this program to ensure that the EHR system is implemented in timely manner.
- Disability Claims Processing Backlog – Reducing the disability claims backlog is essential to ensuring adequate compensation and care for the more than 450,000 veterans still wading through the VA bureaucracy to get a final decision on their claims. The bill will help speed this process and get veterans the decisions they are awaiting by providing $25 million above the request for the Veterans Benefits Administration for hiring additional claims and appellate staff, digital scanning of health records, and overtime pay. In addition, the bill continues rigorous reporting requirements to track each regional office’s performance on claims processing and appeals backlogs.
- Construction – Major and minor construction within the VA is funded at $1.7 billion. In addition, $1 billion is provided in an administrative provision for seismic corrections at VA facilities nationwide ($850 million) and minor construction ($150 million).
- VA Mandatory Funding – The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: Veteran disability compensation programs for 5.3 million veterans and their survivors; education benefits for almost one million veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for almost 150,000 veterans.
- Advance Appropriations – The bill contains $87.6 billion in advance fiscal year 2021 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 $129.5 billion in advance funding for VA mandatory benefit programs, as requested in the President's budget.
Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) – The bill includes $211.8 million for ANC, which is $141 million above the fiscal year 2020 budget request and $97.4 million above the enacted level. The additional funds provide a $10 million increase for salaries and expenses, the same as was enacted for fiscal year 2019, as well as $131 million for the planning and design and construction of Southern Expansion. Combined with past years, this brings the total funds available for the Southern Expansion project and road realignments to $350 million, which is the current estimate needed to complete this project and extend the life of the cemetery.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) – The bill includes $104 million for ABMC, equal to the fiscal year 2019 enacted level and an increase of $28.9 million over the fiscal year 2020 budget request. These funds will support unfunded requirements for high-priority projects.
Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) – The bill provides $70.3 million, an increase of $6 million above the fiscal year 2020 budget request and the fiscal year 2019 enacted level. The increase will support anticipated increases in personnel costs and contract cost inflation, as well as allow more funds to be used for urgently needed capital projects, such as roof replacement, elevator repair, and water and electric system modernization.
Oversight and Accountability – The legislation strengthens oversight and accountability at the Departments of Defense and VA to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used fully to benefit our servicemembers and our veterans. Several provisions are included to keep these agencies on track and to address problems that have wasted money and hurt critical services.
Some of these oversight provisions include: requiring rigorous reporting on the status of VA claims processing, requiring an ongoing GAO review of the implementation of the VA electronic health record modernization, requiring quarterly VA reporting and Committee investigative staff review of the conversion of the VA financial management system, requiring quarterly briefings on large construction projects that are managed outside of VA, limiting funding transfers between construction projects, limiting changes in the scope of construction projects, and restricting certain spending actions without notification to Congress.
The bill also includes funding for oversight offices in VA, as requested, to protect whistleblowers and provide increased accountability through investigation of poorly performing managers and instances of inferior patient care. These offices will support the Secretary’s authority to respond to poorly performing employees and to recoup pay, benefits, and awards in cases of malfeasance.