House, Senate approve VA reform bills

On June 10, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4810, Veteran Access to Care Act. The bill directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into contracts for the provision of hospital care and medical services at non-VA facilities for patients with extended waiting times for appointments at VA facilities.

On June 1, the Senate approved S. 2450, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability and Transparency Act. The bill would spend $500 million on more doctors for VA, as well as authorize leases for 26 new medical facilities. But until the expansion gets up and running, between now and 2016, VA patients who run into long delays or live more than 40 miles from a clinic would be able to access private care facilities like community health centers or private hospitals. This measure also gives the VA secretary new authority to fire senior executives.

Prayer added to World War II Memorial

On June 30, Obama enacted PL 113-123, the World War II Memorial Prayer Act. The Legion-backed bill authorizes the U.S. Department of the Interior to engrave the prayer that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered on D-Day in 1944 on the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Read the prayer here.

FY 2015 defense appropriations passes house

On June 20, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4870, the Fiscal Year 2015 Defense Appropriations bill and sent it to the Senate for action. The bill provides $491 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $4.1 billion above FY 2014 and $200 million above the President Barack Obama’s request. The bill also includes $79.4 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations for the ongoing war efforts abroad, the same level assumed in the president’s budget request and in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act.

Eighty-five percent of the contingency funds cannot be used until the Secretary of Defense provides Congress with a detailed spending plan for the account, including an assurance that no funds will be used in contravention of current-law notification requirements to Congress regarding transfers of Guantánamo detainees. The bill’s appropriation for discretionary spending is consistent with the current cap for defense spending set by December’s Bipartisan Budget Act, and is $202 million above the president’s request.

After enactment of the budget act, Congress passed P.L. 113-76, the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2014, which provided full, detailed spending for each of the 12 annual appropriations bills, including defense. With defense and non-defense spending caps in place for FY 2015, House and Senate appropriators must still avoid gridlock on spending bills, but Congress has not yet enacted any individual appropriations measures this year for FY 2015. Thus, Congress must still enact defense spending that conforms to budget caps, but it may do so partly by shifting funding in the regular Pentagon appropriations account to the Overseas Contingency Operations account which is not subject to the caps. The defense appropriations bill largely mirrors the House-passed defense authorization bill for FY 2015, H.R. 4435.