Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies
Washington, D.C. – The conference agreement includes $98.058 billion in total discretionary budget authority for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Related Agencies, $5.3 billion more than the fiscal year 2018 enacted level and $1 billion more than the President’s budget request. This includes, $10.332 billion in defense spending for military construction, $86.8 billion in non-defense funding, and $921.4 million for Overseas Contingency Operations.
For defense spending, the agreement includes $10.332 billion for military construction, family housing, and related activities at installations in the United States and around the world. This is $241 million more than the fiscal year 2018 enacted level; $131 million less than the budget request; $13 million more than the Senate bill; and equal to the House bill. While the Military Construction and Family Housing accounts remain strained and in high demand, this agreement is an important step forward. This funding will contribute to rebuilding critical infrastructure and improving existing facilities as well as constructing new facilities that directly support the warfighter and ensure quality of life for personnel and military families.
In addition to base funding for military construction, the bill provides $921.4 million to support Overseas Contingency Operations construction, including logistics facilities such as mobility support (airfield, rail, and port improvements) and munitions and fuel storage for the European Deterrence Initiative. This level of funding is $171.4 million more than was provided in fiscal year 2018 and equal to the House, Senate, and requested level. Importantly, the agreement holds the Senate position and does not include $69 million requested for construction of a High Value Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay. This project lacked sufficient justification at this time and was not fully vetted and scoped.
For non-defense, the bill provides $86.5 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs to support veterans’ services, programs, and medical care. This is $5 billion more than the fiscal year 2018 enacted level; $1.14 billion more than the budget request; $37 million more than the Senate reported bill; and equal to the House bill. This agreement places veterans and their needs at the top of the priority list by providing additional funding for VA medical services, maintenance and construction backlogs, and acquisition of the new Electronic Health Record. For mandatory programs, including disability compensation and education benefits, the bill includes $110.7 billion in mandatory funding.
In addition to the funding provided to the VA, the bill includes $318 million for the Related Agencies that provide services to the nation’s veterans and their families. These include Arlington National Cemetery, the Armed Forces Retirement Home, the American Battle Monuments Commission, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Bipartisan Budget Agreement – The conference agreement reflects critical additional investments that would not have been possible without passage of the bipartisan budget agreement. The additional non-defense budget authority allowed the agreement to include:
- A more than $1 billion increase above fiscal year 2017 levels at the Department of Veterans Affairs for mental health care programs (totaling $8.6 billion), including $206 million specifically for suicide prevention.
- $454 million for opioid treatment, prevention, safety initiatives, and justice programs, a $78 million increase over the fiscal year 2017 levels.
In an effort to begin to address VA’s aging infrastructure, the conference agreement includes $2 billion, as outlined in the BBA, specifically for construction and maintenance backlogs. This separate appropriation combined with base funding provided elsewhere within the agreement has led to major investments to correct deficiencies at VA hospitals and clinics across the country. This includes:
- $2.24 billion for critical non-recurring maintenance to correct deficiencies at existing hospitals and clinics, this includes $1.45 billion as requested by the Department and an additional $800 million as part of the $2 billion infrastructure and maintenance backlog appropriation a $1.2 billion increase above the fiscal year 2017 levels.
- Nearly $800 million, $430 million more than fiscal year 2017, for minor construction at VA facilities that will be used to help the VA fund construction projects that either correct deficiencies at existing hospitals or have been awaiting funding on the VA’s list of critical needs.
- $1.15 billion to begin to correct the more than $7 billion in identified seismic risks at VA facilities across the country. This includes $400 million as requested by the Department and an additional $750 million as part of the $2 billion infrastructure and maintenance backlog appropriation.
- An additional $300 million for previously authorized and partially funded major hospital construction.
MISSION ACT – While the conference agreement provides an additional $500 million for VA Community Care, the agreement does not set aside funding specifically for the MISSION Act. In May of 2019, the Department will begin to merge the existing Choice program, which is funded with mandatory funding, into the traditional Community Care programs, streamlining the way in which veterans can receive healthcare outside of the VA system. This shift from mandatory to discretionary, which was not taken into account when the Bipartisan Budget Act caps were established for fiscal year 2019, will likely trigger a need for an additional $1.6 billion in funding according to the Congressional Budget Office above what has been provided in this bill and that figure could go higher depending on how the VA implements the new program. The MISSION Act requirements could also require cuts elsewhere in the federal budget of more than $8 billion in fiscal year 2020 and more than $9 billion in fiscal year 2021 unless a solution is found. The Trump Administration believes that these costs can be accommodated by cutting the National Institutes of Health, eliminating the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and by cutting other veterans programs. We disagree.
Vice Chairman Leahy has a solution that would have accommodated additional funding should it be necessary, unfortunately it was met with strong opposition from House Republican Leadership, and the Administration and was not included in the agreement. This solution would have ensured that additional funding would be available without having to slash funding for other veterans programs and other domestic priorities.
Key Points & Highlights –
Key areas of military construction projects funded in the bill include:
- Operational Facilities – $2.1 billion for operational facilities such as command and control centers, airfield and pier improvements, and tactical operations centers;
- Training Facilities and Ranges – $827.9 million for readiness-essential training facilities, including National Guard Readiness Centers, as well as simulation centers and ranges;
- Maintenance and Production Facilities – $1.4 billion for maintenance and production facilities, including aircraft and vehicle maintenance shops, aircraft hangars and equipment maintenance facilities;
- Support Facilities – $996 million for other facilities such as munitions, parts, and fuel storage, flightline support, and administrative buildings;
- Hospitals, Medical Facilities, and Educational Facilities – $702 million for facilities to provide health and dental care to military personnel and eligible dependents, as well as schools for military families;
- Troop Housing – $283.7 million for barracks, dormitories and dining facilities;
- Military Family Housing – $1.6 billion for construction, operation and maintenance of family housing;
- Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program (ERCIP) – $193.39 million for energy resilience, efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation projects, which is $43.39 million above the President’s budget request;
- Base Closure and Realignment – $342 million for environmental cleanup of bases closed under the BRAC process, $74.5 million above the President’s budget request, including for PFOS/PFOA mitigation and cleanup; and
- NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP) – $171 million for the U.S. share of NSIP, which provides for the construction of joint-use military facilities with our NATO allies.
- Unfunded Requirements – $741.59 million in military construction funding for unspecified Army, Navy and Marine Corps, Air Force, Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, and ERCIP Unfunded Requirements. The additional funding in the bill allows the services to fund their highest priority unfunded projects.
Key areas of funding for veterans and their families:
- Medical Services – The conference agreement includes an additional $750 million for VA’s in-house medical service programs, resulting in an increase of $3.1 billion above fiscal year 2018. As more veterans are relying on VA to meet more of their healthcare care needs, increased investment is critical to ensure that wait times do not increase. The funding will allow VA to build greater capacity across the country in areas from mental healthcare to fighting the opioid epidemic.
- Community Care – The traditional Community Care programs are an integral component of VA’s healthcare delivery system. The conference agreement includes an additional $1 billion for these programs. It is important to note that this funding does not assume new workload transitioning from the VA’s Choice program, which will merge into the discretionary Community Care programs in May of 2019. The additional funding brings the traditional Community Care programs back in line with what the program has been appropriated over the past several years and is to cover the increase in workload projected in these programs.
- Medical and Prosthetic Research - $779 million for Medical and Prosthetic Research ($51.6 million above the President’s budget request and $47 million above the House level). The amount included continues Congress’ effort to prioritize funding for critical biomedical research. Through VA’s research program, the Department has made tremendous advancements in cutting edge treatments for a number of diseases and conditions including PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, suicide prevention techniques, and lightweight prosthetics.
- Claims Processing - $2.956 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration’s General Operating Expenses. This is $46 million over the fiscal year 2018 enacted level, $87 million above the President’s budget request, $34 million over the House, and equal to the Senate level. The additional funds are to be used to hire more claims processors, appeals processors, increase staffing at the Vocational Rehabilitation and Education service, and to continue to convert paper files to electronic format through the Veterans Claims Intake Program.
- Electronic Health Records - $1.1 billion for VA’s acquisition of the same Electronic Health Record (EHR) currently being procured by the Department of Defense. This level is $307 million above the Senate level, and $100 million below both the President’s budget request and the House. The modernization of VA’s EHR is a critical component to ensuring state-of-the-art and efficient healthcare delivery. In an effort to increase transparency and ensure that the VA does not break off its deployment plan that is tied to DoD, the agreement includes bill language restricting the funds to VA’s deployment schedule as presented to the Committee.
- Mental Health - The conference agreement provides $8.619 billion for mental health programs and includes $206.1 million for suicide prevention outreach, an increase of $16 million above the President’s budget request. Veteran suicide remains a serious problem across the country. The additional funds provided will help the VA build greater capacity in its suicide prevention outreach program.
- Opioid Prevention and Treatment - The conference agreement includes the Senate level of $400 million for opioid prevention and treatment, $18 million above the President’s budget request. The additional funding is to build upon the VA’s Opioid Safety Initiative and to ensure that non-VA providers treating veterans through the Community Care programs have access to and are in compliance with VA’s safety and prescribing protocols.
- Homeless Prevention – The conference agreement include $1.819 billion for homeless veteran programs, $65 million above the President’s budget request. This includes $380 million for the Supportive Services for Low Income Veterans and families ($60 million above the President’s budget request); $54.34 million for Homeless Justice Outreach Programs ($5 million above the President’s budget request); $549.7 million for HUD/VASH; and, $257.5 million for the Grant and Per Diem Program.
- Rural Healthcare - $270 million for the Rural Health Initiative, $20 million above the President’s budget request. The Office of Rural Health works to optimize the use of available and emerging technologies, establish new access points to care, and employ strategies to increase healthcare options for all rural veterans. The Office of Rural Health identifies and implements initiatives that support rural clinics and rural home-based primary care, addresses barriers to access and quality of healthcare delivery in rural areas, develops workforce recruitment and retention initiatives, and accelerates and expands telehealth.
- Caregivers - $865 million for the Caregivers program. The Department’s budget submission proposed to cut funding for the Caregivers program and the Department has issued a Request for Information regarding instituting new limitations on eligibility. The conference agreement restores funding for this program, which provides much needed support to caregivers of seriously injured veterans.
- National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD) - $40 million for NCPTSD, $20.32 million over the budget President’s budget request. NCPTSD is the Federal Government’s foremost center of expertise on evidence-based treatment of post-traumatic stress.
- Telemedicine – In an effort to continue VA’s success in increasing access through telemedicine, the agreement provides an additional $30 million for Telehealth Services to further expand telehealth capacity and services in rural and remote areas.
- Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans – The agreement provides $7 billion, as the President’s budget requested, to treat the more than 1 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans projected to utilize the VA’s healthcare system in fiscal year 2019.
Key areas of funding for small but critical related agencies:
- The American Battle Monuments Commission honors the service and sacrifices of American military personnel who perished overseas with 28 permanent World War I and World War II military cemeteries and additional markers and monuments. The agreement provides $104 million in funding, $25 million more than fiscal year 2018 enacted and $28.9 million more than the President’s budget request, to enhance maintenance and provide infrastructure improvements.
- The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is the arbitrator of disability eligibility decisions by the VA Board of Appeals, and, as a result of the increased processing of VA disability claims, has seen a corresponding increase in the number of appeals to the Court. The agreement provides full funding for the Court’s salaries and expenses account ($35 million), but does not provide funding for the proposed acquisition and construction of a new courthouse. In fiscal year 2018, the Court was provided $800,000, as requested, for initial planning of a courthouse, including a feasibility study. The study has not yet been completed and transmitted to Congress, therefore, no funding is yet needed for acquisition and construction.
- Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) is a national treasure that, in addition to its primary function as a national cemetery, hosts more than four million visitors annually. The agreement provides $81 million for ANC and an additional $36.6 million for the expansion of the cemetery.
- The agreement includes $64.3 million for the Armed Forces Retirement Home account, as requested, which uses trust fund income to operate homes in Washington, D.C., and Gulfport, MS.
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