Washington, DC—U.S. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), Chairman of the Senate Military Construction / Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, released the following statement as the Senate began consideration of the fiscal year 2010 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill:
Mr. President, I am pleased to present the fiscal year 2010 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill. The bill was unanimously reported out of Committee on July 7. It is a well balanced and bipartisan measure, and I hope all Senators will support it.
I thank my Ranking Member, Senator Hutchison, for her help and cooperation in crafting the bill. Senator Hutchison’s dedication to America’s veterans and to our military forces has been a tremendous asset in developing this bill. I also thank Chairman Inouye and Vice Chairman Cochran for their support and assistance in moving this bill forward.
The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill provides critical investments in capital infrastructure for our military, including barracks and family housing; training and operational facilities; and childcare and family support centers. In addition, it fulfills the Nation’s promise to our veterans by providing the resources needed for the medical care and benefits that our veterans have earned through their service.
Mr. President, the bill before the Senate today provides a total of $133.9 billion in funding for fiscal year 2010. This includes $76.7 billion in discretionary funding – $439 million over the budget request; $1.4 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations to support our troops in Afghanistan, and $55.8 billion in mandatory funding for veterans programs.
In addition, I am pleased to report that, for the first time, the bill before us contains $48.2 billion in advance appropriations for veterans medical care for fiscal year 2011. This funding will ensure that the VA has a predictable stream of funding and that medical services will not be adversely affected should another stopgap funding measure be needed in the future. As an original cosponsor of the legislation authorizing advance appropriations for veterans health care, I am particularly pleased that Senator Hutchison and I were able to provide the funding in this bill to implement this important legislation.
Other funding priorities in the bill include $53.2 billion in discretionary funding for veterans programs, $150 million over the budget request and $3.9 billion over last year; $44.7 billion for veterans’ medical care, $4.2 billion over last year; $23.2 billion for military construction, $286 million over the President’s budget request; $1.3 billion for Guard and reserve construction projects, $264 million above the budget request, and $279 million for related agencies, including the American Battle Monuments Commission and Arlington National Cemetery.
For FY 2010, the bill provides $53.2 billion in discretionary funding for veterans programs, an increase of $150 million over the budget request and $3.9 billion over last year. This includes $44.7 billion for veterans medical care, an increase of $4.2 billion over last year.
The veterans funding also includes $250 million requested by the President for rural health care, continuing an initiative the Committee began last year. To further improve outreach to veterans in rural areas, including Native Americans, the bill provides $50 million above the budget request for a new Rural Clinic Initiative to serve veterans in rural areas currently underserved by VA facilities.
For military construction, the bill provides $23.2 billion, $286 million over the President’s budget request. This includes nearly $1.3 billion for Guard and reserve projects, $264 million above the budget request. As so many of us know, our reserve components have provided unparalleled support to their active component counterparts in operations around the globe. Providing quality infrastructure for the Guard and reserve is only a small token of our appreciation.
In all, the military construction projects included within this bill are as diverse as the individuals serving our Nation – from building a field training facility in North Carolina, to constructing a military school in Europe; from developing a military health clinic in Washington State to providing dining halls in forward operating locations in Afghanistan.
For the first time since the war in Afghanistan began; the President has requested war related funding as part of the regular budget process. This year, we have incorporated projects for Afghanistan into the normal budget order by providing an Overseas Contingency Operations Account to support war fighting operations. Within this account, we supported the President’s budget request of $1.4 billion for military construction projects at 22 forward operating locations in Afghanistan.
For military family housing, the bill provides $2 billion as requested. The budget request for family housing is $1.5 billion below the fiscal year 2009 enacted level, due primarily to the nearing completion of the military’s housing privatization initiative and subsequent reductions in operating expenses. The privatization of military family housing has been a good news story for our military families and the American taxpayers. Our military families will get first rate housing while at the same time reducing construction and maintenance costs to the military.
Our committee mark also includes funding to complete previous and ongoing base closure actions. This bill contains $7.5 billion for BRAC 2005 as requested and $421.8 million for BRAC 1990, a $25 million increase above the request. The BRAC 2005 request is $1.3 billion below the fiscal year 2009 enacted level, reflecting reduced construction requirements.
The bill also includes $276.3 million as requested to fund the NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP). This program provides the U.S. funding share of joint U.S.-NATO military facilities.
Two military construction programs of particular importance to me are the Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP), which provides mortgage relief to military families required to relocate, and the Energy Conservation Investment Program. Building on an expansion of the HAP program that was funded in the stimulus bill, this bill adds $350 million to complete the funding requirement to temporarily extend HAP benefits to all eligible military families who have suffered losses on home sales due to the mortgage crisis. The additional funding also supports the permanent extension of HAP benefits to wounded warriors who must relocate for medical reasons and to surviving spouses of fallen warriors. As everyone knows, the mortgage crisis has had a devastating impact on many Americans, and our military families are not immune from the collapse in the housing market. In particular, military families have been adversely impacted when forced to sell their homes at a loss when required by the military to relocate either within the United Stated or overseas. In such circumstances, our military men and women do not have the luxury of waiting for the housing market to recover.
The Energy Conservation Investment Program (ECIP) is designed to promote energy conservation and efficiency, including investments in renewable and alternative energy resources, on our military installations. The subcommittee has added $135 million in funding to the President’s budget request to provide for such innovations. Our bill also includes language urging the Department of Defense to develop a more comprehensive strategy to address energy conservation, energy efficiency and energy security. While I am encouraged by the efforts of the services at finding ways to reduce energy use on military installations, I worry that the Department as a whole does not have a single point of coordination that will ensure that innovative ideas and projects are shared across all of the services and within the Department.
This bill includes $26.9 million for projects at active duty installations and Guard facilities in my home state of South Dakota. This includes $14.5 million to expand the Deployment Center at Ellsworth Air Force Base; $7.89 million for the Army and Air Guard Joint Force Headquarters Readiness Center at Camp Rapid; $1.95 million for a National Guard troop medical clinic addition at Camp Rapid; $1.3 million to construct an above-ground magazine storage facility for the Air Guard at Joe Foss Field; and $1.3 million for a munitions maintenance complex addition, also for the Air Guard at Joe Foss Field.
Once again we have made veterans a top priority this year by including $53.2 billion in discretionary funding for the VA, an increase of $150 million over the budget request and $3.9 billion over last year. The Department is expecting to treat almost 6.1 million patients in fiscal year 2010; therefore we have targeted the bulk of the discretionary funding for the three medical care accounts, which total $44.7 billion this year. This includes a $3.7 billion increase over fiscal year 2009 for the Medical Services account.
The challenges that face the VA in the 21st century are daunting but not insurmountable. These include modernizing and transforming antiquated systems; treating combat injuries, many of which leave no physical scars; and adjusting services to meet changing demographics. The VA will have to balance the services required by aging veterans, such as long term care, with the needs required by a surge of new veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, as more and more women are choosing the Armed Forces as a career, the VA will need to transform from a culture dominated by services designed for men to one that includes services specific to the health care needs of women veterans. To that end, this bill includes $183 million to specifically address the unique health care needs of women veterans.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki has laid out an ambitious plan to transform the Department of Veterans Affairs into a 21st century organization. The bill before the Senate is a step in that direction by providing the VA with the resources needed to address these and other issues. For example, the bill provides $6 billion for long term care, a $663 million increase from last year. The funding includes both institutional and home based care programs. In addition, the bill provides $115 million for grants for the construction of State extended care facilities, $30 million over the budget request. This program provides grants to State veterans homes to construct new facilities or to correct life threatening code violations.
The bill also includes $2.1 billion, $460 million above FY 2009, for medical care for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA has seen a surge of these veterans and expects to see over 419,000 this year alone, a 61 percent increase in patient load since 2008. Many of these veterans suffer combat specific injuries such as polytrauma, post traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury. The resources provided in the bill are essential to the VA’s ability to treat these veterans.
As a Senator from a large, highly rural state, I have been emphatic that the VA must change its way of doing business when it comes to providing services to veterans who live well outside urban areas. Last year, as Chairman of the subcommittee, I established a new rural health initiative at the VA, and provided $250 million specifically for the Department to address the gap in services that exists in rural areas. This year’s bill includes an additional $250 million, as requested by the President, to continue this program. To further bolster the rural health effort, I added $50 million to the bill for a new Rural Clinic Initiative. This will provide the VA with additional funding to establish Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) in rural areas that are currently underserved by VA health care facilities.
Mr. President, according to the VA, roughly 131,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. This is 131,000 too many veterans. Secretary Shinseki has made combating homelessness a top priority at the VA. To assist, the bill includes $3.2 billion for health care and support services for homeless veterans. This includes $500 million in direct programs to assist homeless veterans.
The bill also puts a priority on reducing the time it takes for veterans to receive the benefits they have earned. Funding is included which will provide the Veterans Benefits Administration with the resources to hire 1,200 new claims processors in fiscal year 2010. This will bring the Compensation and Pensions workforce level to 14,549 in 2010 as compared to 7,550 in 2005. This increased workforce will be necessary as claims for benefits are estimated to reach almost one million in fiscal year 2010.
The last two issues that I will highlight deal with infrastructure, both capital and electronic. The VA operates the Nation’s largest integrated health care system in the United Sates. It does so through a system of 153 hospitals and 1,002 outpatient clinics. These buildings must be maintained at the highest level to ensure patient safety and high quality medical care. Once again this year, the bill contains additional funding above the budget request to ensure that VA facilities do not become dilapidated and that the backlog of code violations identified in facility condition assessment reports is addressed. In total, this bill provides $1.3 billion, $300 million above the President’s request, to address critical non-recurring maintenance at existing VA hospitals and clinics. Additionally, $1.9 billion is provided for the construction of new VA hospitals and clinics. The bill also includes $685 million for minor construction projects, $85 million above the President’s request.
Funding for bricks and mortar and recapitalization is not the only infrastructure investment made in the bill. In the 21st Century, health care delivery is dependent on modern technology and robust information technology. Therefore, we have included $3.3 billion for the Department to modernize its Information Technology programs, including its electronic medical records, a new paperless claims system, and systems designed for seamless integration of medical and service records with the Department of Defense.
Finally, the bill provides $279 million for a handful of small but important related agencies, including the American Battle Monuments Commission and Arlington National Cemetery.
Mr. President, next Wednesday is Veterans Day, a day on which the Nation honors all those who have served in the armed forces of the United States. I can think of no better way to express the Senate’s gratitude for the service of our veterans and the sacrifices they have made for our country than to pass this bill without delay. Again, I thank my Ranking Member for her support in crafting the bill. I also thank the staff of the subcommittee – Christina Evans, Chad Schulken and Andy Vanlandingham of my staff, and Dennis Balkham and Ben Hammond of the minority staff – for their hard work and cooperative effort to produce this bill.
Mr. President, I yield the Floor.