Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz Statement at Subcommittee Markup of Fiscal Year 2022 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Funding Bill

2021-06-25 09:13

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 2022 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 takes into account 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 also held hearings that dove more deeply into some of the issues that have a significant effect on quality of life in our military.

We held a hearing with Department of Defense officials and GAO to maintain our focus on the substandard conditions found in privatized housing across the branches of our military.

And we also held a hearing on PFAS/PFOA contamination that brought in expert witnesses on the health effects of these toxic chemicals, as well as officials from DOD and VA, giving us a chance to make clear to them that more must be done.

On the VA side, in addition to our annual budget hearing with the Secretary, we also held a hearing on the VA response to the COVID-19 crisis, an oversight hearing on women’s health, mental health, homelessness, and whole health programs at VA, and a much-needed hearing on VA’s infrastructure challenges.

We also held a hearing that examined the current VA policy on assisted reproductive services and how it is failing veterans and their families.

And finally, we held a hearing with the Related Agencies in our bill, which gave us a needed update on their initiatives and challenges.

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 FY 2022 Committee recommendation provides $124.5 billion in discretionary funding. This is an $11.4 billion increase above the FY 2021 enacted funding level and $1.3 billion above the FY 2022 budget request.

The bill provides $10.9 billion for Military Construction, $2.9 billion above the enacted level and $1.07 billion above the President’s budget request, for critical infrastructure needs on military installations.

This total includes $213 million to construct 7 new Child Development Centers, which is $193 million more than the request. With 9,000 children of servicemembers on a waiting list for childcare, this investment is imperative. 

To address another important category that is critical to improving the quality of life for our men and women in uniform, $550 million in the bill is dedicated to projects for the construction of barracks. This is $237 million above the amount in the budget request.

There is also $1.4 billion for Family Housing Construction in this bill, including $116 million for housing support costs, to address issues such as mold, vermin, and lead in military family housing.

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

Turning toward issues related to the environment, the bill provides $100 million for Climate Change and Resiliency Projects, which is $86 million above the FY 2021 enacted level, and $100 million above the FY 2022 budget request. This is a critical issue for many installations and we continue to make this a high priority.

$150 million is provided for PFAS/PFOA cleanup at contaminated installations.

Finally, the bill includes $382.9 million for the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program, which is $136 million above the request.

For the programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the bill includes a total of $268.6 billion, including mandatory spending, of which $113.1 billion is discretionary funding. This amount represents an increase of $8.7 billion in discretionary funding over the FY 2021 enacted level and $176.4 million above the budget request. 

Within the total, $97.6 billion is for VA medical care – $100 million above the budget request and providing for approximately 7.1 million patients to be treated in fiscal year 2022.

This funding encompasses:

  • $778.5 million for gender-specific care for women – an historic amount;
  • $2.2 billion for homelessness programs;
  • $621 million for opioid abuse treatment and prevention;
  • $84 million for whole health;
  • $307 million in rural health initiatives; and
  • $13.2 billion in mental healthcare services, including $599 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 $902 million.

Other areas of interest include robust oversight of the EHRM implementation, responding to the disability claims backlog, ensuring access and care for veterans in rural and underserved areas including telehealth, and improving treatment of conditions that disproportionately affect veterans.

Finally, the bill provides an increase of $5 million over the budget request 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 make a notable difference in the lives of 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 virtual hearings.

I also want to thank my partner, Judge Carter, for his unflagging dedication to 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.

This is 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 Phil Hokenson of Judge Carter’s personal staff. I also want to thank the majority MilCon VA subcommittee staff including clerk Lisa Molyneux, Sarah Young, Brad Allen, Nicole Cohen, Nick Burton, and Luke Georgiadis and Lauren Wolman on my personal staff.

A particular thank you to Sarah Young for her 20 years of service to the House of Representatives, the last ten on the Appropriations Committee. Sarah is retiring and this will be her last subcommittee markup. I learned a lot about the MilCon side of our bill from you, Sarah, and I know the whole subcommittee joins me in thanking you for your service to our country.

117th Congress