Special to the Journal
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, released the following statement after the Subcommittee reported its Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Appropriations bill to the full House Appropriations Committee.
“I am pleased that our bill provides $9.9 billion in military construction for military family housing, medical facilities, NATO, safety and infrastructure improvements in schools for military children, as well as for Guard and Reserve facilities around the country.”
“I am also pleased that our bill provides $147.6 billion for the Veterans Administration, assuring that all areas of administrative expenses, research, medical care, information technology, and facilities will be adequately funded, allowing our Veterans to receive the highest quality of care. However, I continue to be frustrated with the unacceptable claims backlog and the lack of an integrated Electronic Health Records System which is causing unconscionable delays.”
“Frankly, we have a very serious problem when there are over 850,000 veterans awaiting benefit compensation claims. I also find it troubling that we can put a man on the moon but cannot figure out how to create a joint integrated electronic health records system. It is my hope that measures taken in our bill will ease the difficulties of creating an electronic health records system and lessen the backlog of VA claims by providing for the seamless transition of medical records from DOD to the VA and thereby speeding up the claims process.”
“Regarding the broader issue of fiscal responsibility, I continue to believe sequestration is the wrong way to reduce the deficit and balance the budget. While the VA is exempt from sequestration, I am very concerned about its effect on defense and military construction. Members of this Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, need to start working together to resolve sequestration in a bipartisan way, reducing spending responsibly without undermining our economic recovery.”
The legislation is the first appropriations bill reported to the full committee this year. Below is a list of highlights of funding levels and other key provisions in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs Bill:
Veterans Affairs (VA) – The legislation includes a total of $147.6 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This funding will help provide our nation’s veterans with the services and care they have earned for their dedicated service to the country.
- VA Medical Services –The bill funds advanced VA medical services at $43.6 billion – providing for approximately over 6.5 million patients to be treated in Fiscal Year 2014. These funds will be use for mental health care services; suicide prevention activities; traumatic brain injury treatment; the treatment, housing, and job training of homeless veterans; and in rural health initiatives.
- DOD-VA Electronic Health Record – The bill contains $252 million in funding to establish a single, integrated Department of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs electronic health record system. The legislation requires that a unified system be certified by the Secretary of Department of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and confirmed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), before the majority of funding for the program is released.
- Disability Claims Processing Backlog – In order to help the VA meet its goal of ending the disability compensation claims backlog by 2015, the bill provides $155 million for the paperless claims process system and $136 million for the digital scanning of health records. Additionally, funding has been provided for the hiring of 94 additional VA claims processors.
- VA Mandatory Funding – The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as veteran disability compensation programs for 4.2 million veterans and their survivors; post-9-11 GI bill education benefits for more than 764,000 veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 175,000 veterans.
- Oversight – Funds appropriated within the bill are to be designated for the development of an electronic health record system that meets the requirements of being single, joint, common, and integrated. Rigorous reporting requirements would be put into place to track the performance of each regional office on claim processing.
Advance Appropriations for Veterans Medical Programs – The bill contains $55.6 billion in advance Fiscal Year 2015 funding for the VA – the same level provided in the President’s Budget request. This funding will provide for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities, and ensure that our veterans have continued, full access to their medical care needs.
Military Construction – The bill provides $9.9 billion for military construction projects – a decrease of $670 million below the enacted Fiscal Year 2013 level. These programs include large and small construction and rehabilitation projects on military bases within the U.S. and overseas.
• Military Family Housing –The bill provides $1.5 billion to fund construction, operation and maintenance of military family housing for Fiscal Year 2014. This is $106 million below the enacted fiscal year 2013 level, due to savings from the privatization of family housing. The funding will ensure quality housing is continued for 1,231,044 military families whose loved ones are serving the country.
• Military Medical Facilities – The bill includes $927 million for construction and alterations for new or existing military medical facilities. These facilities support and care for 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries, including our wounded troops abroad.
• Department of Defense Education Facilities –The bill includes $798 million for essential safety improvements and infrastructure work at 17 Department of Defense Education Activities (DODEA) facilities located within the U.S. and overseas. This funding will help address health, safety, and efficiency problems at these facilities for military children and families.
- NATO – The bill funds the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Security Investment Program (NSIP) at $199.7 million which is $40 million below the fiscal year 2014 budget request and $54.2 million below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.
• Guard and Reserve – The bill includes $676.3 million for construction or alteration of Guard and Reserve facilities in 25 States.
Arlington National Cemetery – The legislation continues to provide for the much needed improvements the Arlington National Cemetery.