On April 30, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 2029, the Fiscal Year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill by a vote of 255-163, sending the measure to the Senate. The legislation contains funding to house, train and equip military personnel; provide housing and services to military families and help maintain base infrastructure; and for programs under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Total Military Construction funding is $7.7 billion – an increase of $904 million above fiscal 2015 and $755 million less than the president’s request. This includes funds for large and small construction, and renovation projects on military bases. Of the amount provided $532 million is for Overseas Contingency Operations. Specific provisions of interest to The American Legion include:
Military Family Housing – $1.4 billion for construction, operation and maintenance of military family housing. This is $223 million above fiscal 2015 and the same as the president’s budget request. The funding is for 1.3 million military families currently served by the program.
- Military Medical Facilities – $607 million for construction and alterations for new or existing military medical facilities, an increase of $121 million above fiscal 2015.
- VA programs would receive $163.2 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, an increase of $4.1 billion above current year funding. Discretionary funding is $68.7 billion; $58.7 billion of this total was provided last year via advance funding in the fiscal 2015 Appropriations bill.
- VA Medical Services: $48.6 billion providing for 6.9 million patients. Within this total, funding includes: $7.5 billion in mental health care services; $6.7 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing and job training; $250 million in rural health initiatives; $232 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; and $144 million in suicide-prevention activities.
- VA Electronic Health Record: $233 million for modernization of the VA electronic health record system. To help ensure veterans get proper care through the timely and accurate exchange of medical data between VA, DoD, and the private sector, the bill includes language restricting funding until the VA demonstrates progress on the system’s functionality and interoperability.
- Disability Claims Processing Backlog: $290 million for the paperless claims processing system, $141 million for digital scanning of health records and $26 million for centralized mail. The legislation continues reporting requirements to track each regional office’s performance on claims processing, and includes funding to support 770 new staff to tackle claims appeals and other needs to reduce the outrageous claims backlog.
An amendment to the VA portion of the bill was introduced by Rep. David Price, D-N.C., and adopted on voice vote; it adds $15 million in funds for VA medical research, offset by a reduction in VA information technology funds.