June 11, 2017
The House Appropriations Committee today released the fiscal year 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, which will be considered in subcommittee tomorrow. The legislation meets the goals outlined by the White House to rebuild the military, providing funding to house, train, and equip military personnel, provide housing and services to military families, and help maintain base infrastructure. The bill also funds veterans’ benefits and programs.
In total, the legislation provides $88.8 billion in discretionary funding – $6 billion above the fiscal year 2017 level. This includes $638 million in Overseas Contingency Operations funding, which includes funding for European Reassurance Initiative projects.
Within this total, funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs is increased by $4 billion – 5 percent – over the fiscal year 2017 level, including funding to increase access to services for veterans, and to increase oversight and accountability within the department. This includes the advance funding provided for veterans in the fiscal year 2017 appropriations bill.
Military construction is increased by $2.1 billion – 25 percent over the fiscal year 2017 level – to provide the necessary resources to continue to rebuild our military, to prepare our service members to be to face existing and emerging threats, and to care for military families.
Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen made the following statement on the legislation:
“Ensuring that the proper resources are available to rebuild our military is an essential priority of Republicans in Congress and the White House, and is key to conducting successful missions and keeping our nation secure. Our servicemen and servicewomen need the tools to do their jobs, and also need the peace of mind that their needs and the needs of their families are being taken care of here at home and around the world. Just as importantly, our veterans – who have sacrificed so much to protect our way of life – deserve the full health services and benefits they have earned,” Chairman Frelinghuysen said.
“This legislation includes the funding and policies necessary to deliver on our promises to our military and our veterans. It also includes strong oversight measures to assure that tax dollars are being used wisely and to stop waste and abuse in its tracks, so that our troops and vets get the most benefit of every cent,” Chairman Frelinghuysen continued.
Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Chairman Charlie Dent also commented on his bill:
“This bill demonstrates the strong support that my colleagues and I have for the brave men and women who have endured hardships and sacrifices through their service to our great nation. The bill includes significant resources to provide high-quality, comprehensive care to those who are treated through the Department of Veterans Affairs to meet the quality of life needs of those currently serving, and to enhance our readiness and defensive posture around the world. By incorporating feedback from those who represent communities all across the country and maintaining an emphasis on our veterans and military families, I am confident that this legislation will bring about positive results for our national heroes. This bill will allow us to keep the promises made to those who have served while simultaneously ensuring further accountability and oversight for taxpayer dollars,” Chairman Dent said.
The bill totals $88.8 billion – $6 billion above the fiscal year 2017 level and $573 million below the President’s budget request. This includes $638 million in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding.
Oversight and Accountability – The legislation strengthens oversight and accountability at the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure taxpayer dollars are being used to fully benefit our service members and our veterans. Several provisions are included to keep these agencies on track and to address problems that have wasted money and hurt critical services.
Some of these oversight provisions include: requiring rigorous reporting on the status of VA claims processing, requiring large construction projects to be managed outside of the VA, limiting transfers between construction projects, limiting changes in the scope of construction projects, restricting certain spending actions without notification to Congress, and fencing funding for the electronic health record until VA meets extensive data requirements.
The bill also includes funding for new oversight offices in VA, as requested, to protect whistleblowers and provide increased accountability through investigation of poorly-performing managers and instances of inferior patient care. These offices will support the Secretary’s new authority to fire or demote poorly performing employees and to recoup pay, benefits and awards in cases of malfeasance.
Military Construction – The bill provides a total of $10.2 billion for military construction projects – an increase of $2.1 billion – 25 percent – above the enacted fiscal year 2017 level. Within this amount, $638 million is provided in OCO funding for projects in countries with ongoing U.S. operations. These funds will provide for the construction and maintenance of facilities to enable our military to fight current and emerging threats, to support increased troop levels, and to sustain services for military families. This includes operational facilities, training facilities, hospitals, family housing, National Guard readiness centers, barracks, and other important resources. In total, 215 military construction projects across the country and overseas receive funding in the bill.
- Military Family Housing – The bill provides $1.4 billion to fund construction, operation, and maintenance of military family housing for fiscal year 2018. This is $131 million above the fiscal year 2017 level and the same as the budget request. The funding will ensure quality housing is sustained for all 1,388,028 military families currently served by the program.
- Military Medical Facilities – The bill includes $737 million for construction and alterations for new or existing military medical facilities, an increase of $433 million above the fiscal year 2017 level. This funding will allow for continued support and care for 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries, including our wounded troops abroad.
- DOD Education Facilities – The bill includes $249 million for essential safety improvements and infrastructure work at four DOD Education Activities facilities located within the U.S. and overseas.
- Guard and Reserve – The bill includes $575 million for construction or alteration of Guard and Reserve facilities in 22 states, the same as the requested level.
- NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP) – The bill provides $178 million, the same level as in FY 2017, for infrastructure necessary for wartime, crisis, and peace support and deterrence operations, and training requirements. The funds will support responses to the challenges posed by Russia and to the risks and threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.
- Guantanamo Bay – The legislation continues language to prohibit the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station and a provision to prohibit funding for any facility within the U.S. to house detainees. The bill also includes $115 million in funding to build two new barracks to house service members stationed at Guantanamo Bay.
Veterans Affairs (VA) – The legislation includes a total of $182.3 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the VA, an increase of $5.3 billion above the fiscal year 2017 level. This funding will help address many of the problems currently facing the VA, and provide for better and increased access to care for our veterans.
Discretionary funding alone for VA programs in the bill totals $78.3 billion, an increase of $3.9 billion above the fiscal year 2017 level. Approximately $66.4 billion of this discretionary total was provided last year via advance funding in the fiscal year 2017 Appropriations bill.
These additional funds will provide resources for important priorities within the VA, such as suicide prevention, claims processing, homeless prevention and care, opioid addiction, and medical research.
- VA Medical Care – The bill funds VA medical care at $69 billion – providing for approximately seven million patients to be treated in fiscal year 2018. Within this total, funding includes: $8.4 billion in mental health care services; $186 million in suicide prevention activities; $316 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; $7.3 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; $751 million for hepatitis C treatment; $50 million for opioid abuse prevention; and $250 million in rural health initiatives. This total also includes full funding of the President’s additional $2.6 billion request to meet higher-than-anticipated medical needs.
- VA Electronic Health Record – The bill contains $65 million for the modernization of the VA electronic health record system, the same as the President’s request. This will ensure the swift implementation of the plan for the VA to use an identical electronic record system as the DOD. This will also ensure our veterans get proper care, with timely and accurate medical data transferred between the VA, DOD, and the private sector.
- Disability Claims Processing Backlog – Reducing the disability claims backlog is essential to ensuring adequate compensation and care for the 312,000 veterans still wading through the VA bureaucracy to get a final decision on their claims. The bill will help speed this process and get these veterans the decisions they are awaiting by providing $50 million above the request to be used for digital scanning of health records and overtime pay. In addition, the bill continues rigorous reporting requirements to track each regional office’s performance on claims processing and appeals backlogs.
- Construction – Major and minor construction within the VA is funded at $753 million. The bill provides the full request for the construction of major medical facilities, and expansion of cemeteries that are reaching capacity before 2022.
- VA Mandatory Funding – The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: veteran disability compensation programs for 4.5 million veterans and their survivors; education benefits for one million veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 145,000 veterans.
- Advance Appropriations – The bill contains $70.7 billion in advance fiscal year 2019 funding for veterans’ medical programs – the same level as the President’s 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. The bill includes $107.7 billion in advance funding for VA mandatory benefit programs, as requested in the President’s budget.