FY16 Military Construction & Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Full Committee Markup Bill Summary

Mara Stark-Alcalá w/Appropriations:                                     (202) 224-2667                                  
Marnee Banks w/Tester                                                          (202) 228-0371
Full Committee Mark: May 21, 2015
Washington, D.C. – The fiscal year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agency Appropriations Bill provides a total of $77.6 billion in discretionary funding, $5.5 billion more than last year, but $1.2 billion less than the President’s budget request.  The bill funds mandatory Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation and pension accounts at $94.5 billion.  The bill also includes $63.3 billion in advance funding for fiscal year 2017 VA medical care accounts.  For the first time, the bill also provides advance funding for VA mandatory compensation and pension accounts.  Fiscal year 2017 mandatory account advances total $104 billion.
The Subcommittee's allocation conforms to the post-sequester caps under the Budget Control Act.  Not one Senate Democrat voted for these spartan spending levels because they do not provide adequate resources to protect America, build infrastructure, create opportunity, and spur economic growth.  We need a new budget deal, in the spirit of Murray-Ryan, that stops hollowing out investments in America’s future.
U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, issued the following statement:
“At a time when we are demanding more from the VA, we simply cannot shortchange efforts to provide for our veterans, and that’s exactly what this bill does. Taking care of the brave men and women who served our nation is a cost of war, and this bill fails to live up to the promises we made them.”
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, issued the following statement:
“I want to thank Senators Kirk and Tester, as well as their staffs, for all of their hard work.  I appreciate that this bill continues progress on my checklist for change, especially to end the VA backlog.  It also supports needed military construction, including in my home state of Maryland, and follows through with advance mandatory funding for mandatory benefit programs.   However, because of the spartan allocation, this bill doesn’t provide the resources to turn the promises made to our veterans into promises kept.  It underfunds our veterans by more than $850 million. We need to provide more resources so we can meet critical and growing needs for the caregiver program, lifesaving Hepatitis-C drugs and VA hospital and clinic maintenance to avoid another Walter Reed situation.  Congress needs to work together on a sequel to the Murray-Ryan budget deal sooner rather than later, so we can get to work on realistic bills that protect America and provide opportunity for all Americans.”
Key Points & Highlights 
  • The bill provides only $69.2 billion in discretionary funding for the VA, which is $857 million less than the President’s budget request.  Military construction and family housing funding is $8 billion, which is $354.6 million less than the request.  Funding for the Related Agencies – the American Battle Monuments Commission, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home – totals $244.3 million, which is equal to the request.  There is no Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding in the bill.
  • The bill does fully fund the operation of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) at $2.69 billion, $163.5 million more than fiscal year 2015 funding.  This level of funding will enable the VA to continue to transform VBA from a paper based claims process to a digital environment.  It will also allow VA to hire an additional 770 new claims processors, including 200 new appeals adjudicators which is key to positioning the VA to meet the growing appeals workload while continuing the VA’s efforts to streamline claims processing and eliminate the remaining claims backlog.
  • The bill also provides an increase of $20 million over the President’s request for funding for VA State extended care facility grants, bringing the total to $100 million.  In addition, the bill carves out $20 million in rural health care funding specifically for construction grants for State extended care homes in rural and highly rural areas.  VA’s partnership with states through the State Home programs provides the more efficient and cost effective way to deliver long term care to an aging veteran population as opposed to constructing, maintaining and operating VA facilities. 
  • However, the insufficient funding allocation for the bill, most importantly for the Department of Veterans Affairs, has resulted in the underfunding of key programs that will have a direct impact on veterans. 
  • The bill does not provide full funding for the President’s request for a $105 million boost to the fiscal year 2016 advance funding for non-recurring maintenance at medical facilities.  Roughly 60 percent of VA’s medical facilities are more than 50 years old. The VA estimates a total of $10 billion to $12 billion in unfunded requirements to correct deficiencies at hospitals and clinics.  VA estimates that the level of funding in this bill will provide about $550 million for non-recurring maintenance.
  • The bill proposes to rescind $255 million from the Veterans Health Administration medical care accounts that is included in the President’s budget for a 1.3 percent government-wide pay raise.  A cut of this magnitude equates to medical care for about 21,600 veterans.  This is a back-of-the-bill de facto cut to medical care because the pay raises will have to be absorbed through reductions to other medical care programs, putting at risk full funding for programs such as homeless veteran initiatives and the VA Caregivers Program.
  • The VA is facing significant unanticipated costs due primarily to increased demand for new Hepatitis-C treatment drugs that have up to a 96 percent cure rate; a nearly 50 percent increase in the utilization of fee-based medical care provided outside of the VA health care system; and a spike in the usage of the VA’s Caregivers Program for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  The VA allocation in this bill does not provide sufficient funding to address all of these emerging medical care priorities.   
  • For military construction and family housing, the bill provides $8 billion, $354.6 million below the requested level, but $1.5 billion above the fiscal year 2015 enacted level. The majority of the savings was achieved through rescissions of unobligated balances due to bid savings.
  • The bill also includes an additional $154 million for unspecified Army, Army National Guard, Army Reserve, and Marine Corps Unfunded Requirements (UFRs) for military construction.  The Department of Defense provides an annual report to Congress from each of the services following submission of the budget request that identifies UFRs throughout the Defense budget.  The additional funding in the bill allows the Army components and the Marine Corps to fund their highest priority unfunded projects. 

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