Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz Statement at Full Committee Markup of FY 2020 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Funding Bill

2019-05-09 08:53

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Appropriations Committee's markup of the fiscal year 2020 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs bill:

Thank you Madam Chair for yielding.

This bill highlights our continued commitment to our servicemembers and their families and to our Veterans.

The bill before you today takes into account the requests and feedback that all of you, as well as our colleagues off the Committee, have provided. We have worked closely with your staffs to address any issues and to produce a bill that reflects the priorities of this Committee and all Members in this House.

Prior to the beginning of our budget hearings, we endeavored to dive deeper into the issues that each of our agencies struggle with and that have faced neglect for too long.

We held a hearing on quality of life issues for our military, which focused primarily on the substandard conditions revealed in privatized housing across the branches of our military. We held a hearing on women Veterans’ health, on mental health, and whole health as treatment for PTSD and other issues, and to address suicide prevention. We focused on the Veteran homeless population and we had a subcommittee hearing with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to discuss a broad range of issues in addition to the regular budget hearing with the Secretary.

These deeper dives allowed us all to get a better sense of the needs that exist, and I think these hearings helped us produce a better product. The bill makes needed investments in the programs that improve our military readiness and provides the benefits and medical care that our Veterans have earned because of their service to our Nation.

The FY 2020 Committee recommendation provides $108.1 billion which includes $921 million for Overseas Contingency Operations and $2 billion in emergency funding to address Hurricane damage in North Carolina and Florida. This is a $10 billion increase above the FY 2019 enacted funding level and $6.1 billion below the FY 2020 budget request.

The bill provides $10.5 billion for Military Construction, an increase of $207 million above the FY 2019 enacted level and $702.7 million below the FY 2020 budget request.

The Committee recommendation provides $1.4 billion for Family Housing Construction which is $140.8 million above the FY 2020 budget request. The additional $140.8 million is for housing support costs associated with housing issues on multiple military installations.

The Committee recommendation funds the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program at $190 million, which is $40 million above the request.

The Committee recommendation provides $120 million above the budget request for the BRAC account.  Of the additional funds provided, $60 million is for continued efforts to accelerate BRAC cleanup efforts and $60 million is for remediation of PFOS/PFOA.

The Committee mark provides $1.1 billion for unfunded priorities that were approved by the DOD Comptroller.  These projects are at more than 35% design and can be executed during FY 2020.

A total of $217.5 billion is provided for the FY 2020 programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs, of which $94.3 billion is discretionary funding, which is $7.8 billion above the FY 2019 enacted level and $1.3 billion above the FY 2020 budget request. 

As you can see we are making a big investment in VA – as I mentioned we are above both the FY 2019 enacted level and the FY 2020 budget request. 

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: $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.

Medical and Prosthetic Research is $840 million, which is $61 million above the FY 2019 enacted level and $78 million above the budget request

The bill provides $9.4 billion in mental healthcare services and $222 million in suicide prevention outreach activities. In addition, this funding will support a number of initiatives to remove barriers to mental healthcare and reduce the stigma of seeking treatment, as well as putting an emphasis on PTSD research and treatment, firearm safety for veterans, and supporting the Veterans Crisis Line.

This funding ensures that VA can meet the medical needs of our Veterans and strengthen its focus on other vital areas.

One last VA item I would like to note is that the bill provides $1 billion for infrastructure improvements, allocating $850 million for seismic corrections, and $150 million for minor construction.  If we want to keep Veterans in the system we must ensure that VA has modern, safe facilities to see these Veterans.

For the Related Agencies, the bill provides an increase of 33% over the fiscal year 2019 enacted level for the four Related Agencies under this bill: the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

This funding will allow these agencies to maintain service levels and invest in needed maintenance and improvement projects. Additionally, the bill provides the last installment of funds for the anticipated cost of Arlington Cemetery’s Southern Expansion project, which will help extend the life of the cemetery into the 2050 timeframe.

 Finally, this bill does not fund a border wall, nor allow the president to bypass congressional intent and divert vital military construction funding from previously approved national security projects. Whether we agree or disagree on the need for a wall or whether or not there is a crisis at the border, I hope this Committee can agree that funds for the wall should not be stolen from previously approved vital military construction projects that are to a dollar, higher priority than any wall.

As I have said throughout this process, Military construction dollars should be used only for the purpose they are provided, which is to support the Department of Defense’s mission, servicemembers, and their families. It is important to point out, particularly for the new Members of the Committee, that Milcon only represents 3 percent of total Defense funds so all dollars are valuable.  We can debate the merits of a border wall but let’s reserve that for consideration during the Homeland Security markup.

With that, thank you to all Members for their engagement during the process of drafting this legislation, particularly our subcommittee Members. We have worked so well together and this bill does right by our servicemembers and Veterans as a result.

Thank you to my partner, Judge Carter, for his work on these issues. I am proud to have you as our Ranking Member on this Subcommittee.

Thank you to Chairwoman Lowey and Ranking Member Granger for their support for the Subcommittee’s work.

Finally, thank you to our staff. Their expertise and commitment to our servicemembers and our Veterans is evident every day.

Clerk – Matt Washington

Sarah Young

Jenny Hollrah

Nicole Cohen

Keihysha Cenord

Brian Turbyfill – my personal staff

Betsy Bina

Kiya Batmanglidj

Grady Bourn – Judge Carter’s personal staff

This is a good bill that will help our servicemembers, their families, and our Veterans, and I urge all our Members to support it. I yield back the balance of my time

116th Congress