Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz Statement at Full Committee Markup of Fiscal Year 2023 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Funding Bill
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Appropriations Committee's markup of the fiscal year 2023 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies bill:
“I am very proud of the fiscal year 2023 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies bill, which is a significant sign of our commitment to our servicemembers and their families, and to our veterans.
“We can all be proud of the work we did to produce a bill that reflects the priorities of this Committee and all Members of the House, including how engaged Members were during hearings to address crucial areas within our jurisdiction.
“We held hearings with each of the Services on installations and quality of life for our servicemembers, as well as an oversight hearing focusing on the severe challenges facing DOD’s privatized family housing portfolio.
“We need systemic change and greater oversight and responsibility from DOD on the privatized housing initiative, and we are addressing that in our mark.
“For VA, in addition to our budget hearing with the Secretary, we also held hearings on VA’s critical health programs and research efforts, in addition to our regular oversight briefings to monitor the progress and challenges of the Electronic Health Record Modernization effort.
“I am proud that the bill before us makes needed investments in the programs that improve our military readiness and quality of life and provides the benefits and medical care our veterans have earned during their service to our nation.
“Specifically, the fiscal year 2023 Committee recommendation provides $150.5 billion in discretionary funding. This is a $23 billion increase above the fiscal year 2022 enacted funding level and $2.9 billion above the fiscal year 2023 budget request. Within this total, $15.1 billion is for military construction programs, $118.8 billion is for VA Medical Care, and $16.6 billion is for nondefense discretionary programs at VA and the Related Agencies.
“Most notably, consistent with the Biden budget request this year, VA Medical Care is considered separate from other funding categories in order to ensure that we are creating a funding structure that best serves our veterans.
“For Military Construction, the bill provides $15.1 billion, which is $153 million above the enacted level and $2.9 billion above the President’s budget request, to address critical infrastructure needs on military installations.
“This includes $274 million to support increased capacity and builds eight new Child Development Centers for children of active duty servicemembers worldwide.
“There is also a total of $2.1 billion for Family Housing Construction, with $373 million to address unacceptable conditions in military family housing and to increase oversight of the military privatized housing portfolio.
“The MilCon-VA subcommittee is firmly committed to addressing the unacceptable conditions and neglect that have persisted for far too long.
“In order to protect the environment, the bill provides $135 million for Climate Change and Resiliency Projects, as well as $575 million for the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) account, with a historic investment of $200 million for PFAS cleanup at contaminated former installations.
“Finally, the bill includes $220 million for the NATO Security Investment Program, an increase of $10 million above the budget request, to support vital European defense infrastructure. The additional funds respond to continued Russian aggression following the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, as well as the risks and threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.
“For the programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the bill includes a total of $299 billion, of which $135 billion is discretionary funding. This amount represents an increase of $23 billion in discretionary funding over the fiscal year 2022 enacted level.
“Within the total, $118.8 billion is for VA medical care – $66 million above the budget request – so 7.3 million patients can be treated in fiscal year 2023.
“As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, I am pleased that the Biden Administration’s budget request separated out the cost of veterans’ medical care from other discretionary items, recognizing that the cost of treating those who served our country should not come at the expense of other needs.
“We have a solemn obligation to care for our veterans, not pit their medical care against the other programs they rely on, within VA and throughout the entire Federal government.
“Funding for VA includes significant investments in gender-specific care and programmatic efforts for women, and mental health care, as well as programs to address homelessness, Substance Use Disorder, whole health efforts, rural health initiatives, and suicide prevention.
“We have also boosted investment in medical and prosthetic research over the budget request, an area of bipartisan member interest, bringing the total to $926 million.
“Beyond providing health care, this bill will support robust oversight of VA’s implementation of the electronic health record, increased investments to respond to the disability claims and appeals backlog, and continued investments to improve the condition of VA’s physical infrastructure so veterans can continue to receive world-class care in world-class facilities.
“Finally, the bill provides $441 million for the four Related Agencies to maintain service levels and invest in needed maintenance and improvements: the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
“As you can see, with this bill, we are investing in programs that are so critical to our current and former servicemembers and their families.
“I want to thank all our Members on both sides of the aisle for their engagement during the process of drafting this legislation.
“I especially want to thank my friend and partner, Judge Carter, for his relentless dedication to our servicemembers and veterans.
“I also want to thank Chair DeLauro and Ranking Member Granger for their support for the Subcommittee’s work.”
“Finally, I would like to thank the staff who have worked hard to prepare this bill. Betsy Bina the subcommittee Minority Clerk, and John Muscolini on the minority staff; Grady Bourn and Shareia Oliver on Judge Carter’s personal staff; the majority MilCon-VA subcommittee staff including clerk Jenny Neuscheler, Brad Allen, Nicole Cohen, Nick Burton and Luke Georgiadis; and of course, Lauren Wolman on my personal staff.
“This is a great bill that I am extremely proud of. It addresses urgently needed issues for our military and veterans, and I urge all of my colleagues to join me in advancing this bill forward.
“Thank you, and I yield back.”