Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz Statement at Subcommittee Markup of Fiscal Year 2023 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Funding Bill

2022-06-15 13:04

Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Chair of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's markup of its fiscal year 2023 bill:

The bill before us today 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 this bill, which incorporates the requests and feedback that all of you, and our colleagues on and off the Committee, have provided. 

This bill is also the result of numerous hearings the subcommittee held earlier this year that addressed crucial areas within our jurisdiction. In addition to our hearings with each of the Services on installations and quality of life for our servicemembers, the Subcommittee dove more deeply into issues that have a significant effect on quality of life in our military.

We held an oversight hearing focusing on the biggest issues facing DOD’s privatized family housing portfolio, hearing from residents, DOD, GAO, and from the largest privatized housing providers. 

To say there are ongoing challenges with the privatized housing initiative is severely understating the problem – we need systemic change and greater oversight and responsibility from the Department, and we are working to address that in our mark.

On the VA side, in addition to our annual budget hearing with the Secretary, we also held an oversight hearing on women’s health, mental health, homelessness, and whole health programs at VA, and a hearing focusing on research efforts at VA. 

And because of ongoing concerns regarding the implementation of the Electronic Health Record Modernization, we have been holding regular oversight briefings to monitor the progress and challenges and make sure we provide real-time oversight.

I am proud that the bill before us reflects this work and 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 better serves our veterans.

These increases support critical programs and oversight across the bill.

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 total includes $274 million to construct eight new Child Development Centers, and includes planning and design for future centers, which is $50 million above the enacted level and $186 million more than the budget request. These funds will support increased capacity and better facilities for the 1.2 million children of active duty servicemembers worldwide.

There is also a total of $2.1 billion for Family Housing Construction, which is $169 million above the budget request. This includes $373 million for housing support costs, to address unacceptable conditions in military family housing, as well as increased oversight of military privatized housing.

We are firmly committed as a subcommittee to addressing the unacceptable conditions and neglect that have persisted for far too long. 

Turning toward issues related to the environment, the bill provides $135 million for Climate Change and Resiliency Projects, which is $15 million above the 2022 enacted level. This is a critical issue for many installations, and we continue to make this a high priority.

Within the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) account, which is funded at $575 million, $200 million is provided for PFAS cleanup at contaminated installations.

Additionally, the bill includes $653 million for the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program, which is $184 million above the 2022 enacted level and $100 million above the budget request.

Finally, the bill includes $220 million for the NATO Security Investment Program, which is an increase of $10 million above the budget request, in order to support the necessary infrastructure for wartime, crisis, peace support and deterrence operations, and training requirements. The additional funds will support responses to the challenges posed by 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, including mandatory spending, 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 and providing for approximately 7.3 million patients to 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 needs, 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 government.

This bill makes the investments in health care that our veterans need, including: 

  • $911 million for gender-specific care and programmatic efforts for women – a historic amount; 
  • $2.7 billion for homelessness programs; 
  • $663 million for opioid abuse treatment and prevention; 
  • $183 million for Substance Use Disorder programs;
  • $86 million for whole health programs, which incorporate complementary and integrative medicine into care; 
  • $308 million in rural health initiatives; and
  • $13.9 billion in mental healthcare services, including $498 million for suicide prevention outreach.

We have also boosted investment in medical and prosthetic research, an area of bipartisan member interest, bringing the total to $926 million.

Other items I am proud of in this bill 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. 

This includes the requested funding to complete construction of Arlington National Cemetery’s much-needed Southern Expansion project, which will create 80,000 additional burial spaces.

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 Subcommittee Members for their engagement while drafting this legislation, especially your active feedback and input during our hearings. 

I also want to thank my partner, Judge Carter, for his tireless work for our servicemembers and veterans and importantly, for his friendship. I am proud to have you as our Ranking Member on this Subcommittee.

I also want to thank Chair DeLauro and Ranking Member Granger for their support for the Subcommittee’s work.

We have developed a good bill that addresses urgently needed issues for our military and veterans, and I urge all of my colleagues to join me in advancing this forward.  

Before I turn to the ranking member for his opening statement, I’d like to thank the staff who have worked hard to prepare this bill. I want to thank Betsy Bina, the subcommittee Minority Clerk, and John Muscolini on the minority staff, as well as Grady Bourn and Shareia Oliver on Judge Carter’s personal staff. 

I also want to thank the majority MilCon-VA subcommittee staff including clerk Jenny Neuscheler, Brad Allen, Nicole Cohen, Nick Burton, and Luke Georgiadis and Lauren Wolman on my personal staff. 

117th Congress