SUMMARY: FY2019 MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill Approved by Senate Committee

Washington, D.C. –The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved fiscal year 2019 funding legislation that provides $207.1 billion in total funding, including $98 billion in discretionary funding, $5.3 billion more than fiscal year 2018 enacted and $956.7 million more than the President’s budget request level. 

In addition to the fiscal year 2019 funding, the bill provides $75.6 billion in fiscal year 2020 advance funding for veterans health care, equal to the President’s budget request, and $121.3 billion for fiscal year 2020 advance funding for the VA’s compensation and pensions mandatory accounts.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii.), Ranking Member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, said:

“This bill was written with strong bipartisan consensus, and it provides critical funding to support our veterans, service members, and their families. It keeps us on track to restore military readiness. It increases funding for community care for veterans, while also providing additional funding for in-house VA care.  This lays down a marker that we will not privatize care for our veterans at the expense of critical in-house medical services. We also give more funding than was asked to combat the opioid epidemic, reduce infrastructure backlogs, and support the Caregivers Program. This is a strong bill that would not have been possible without the bipartisan budget agreement. I look forward to seeing it move through the process.”

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said: “I thank Chairman Boozman and Ranking Member Schatz for their bipartisan work on this bill.  The fiscal year 2019 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill dedicates considerable resources to the support and care of our veterans, including $2 billion to address the maintenance backlog at our VA hospitals and clinics, as agreed to in the bipartisan budget deal.  Unfortunately, the current spending caps do not accommodate the new funding needed to support the VA MISSION Act without requiring cuts to other important programs.  We do our veterans no favors by promising care without backing it up with resources.  This administration should immediately request the funds needed to support this new program.  Saying that providing new funding to care for our veterans is an “anathema to responsible spending” is shameful.  I look forward to working with Chairman Shelby, the Veterans Affairs Committee, and the Budget Committee in finding an appropriate funding solution.

The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies appropriations bill provides the funding to meet both the mission-critical and quality-of-life infrastructure requirements of our military service members and their families.  It also funds a wide range of programs for America’s 20 million veterans, including disability compensation and pensions, medical care and research, and hospital and clinic construction.  In addition, the bill funds four Related Agencies that support our troops and veterans:  the American Battle Monuments Commission, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

Key Points & Highlights

Military Construction

This bill provides $10.3 billion for Military Construction and Family Housing, which is $228 million above fiscal year 2018 enacted. While the Department of Defense did not take advantage of additional headroom provided by the 2018 budget deal to aggressively work to buy back years of using these accounts as bill payers – to the detriment of our service members and their families – this bill is an important step forward. This funding will contribute to rebuilding critical infrastructure, as well as improving existing and constructing new facilities that directly support the warfighter and ensure quality of life for personnel and military families.

Key areas of military construction projects funded in the bill include:

  • Operational Facilities – $2.3 billion for operational facilities such as command and control centers, airfield and pier improvements, and tactical operations centers;
  • Training Facilities and Ranges – $931.3 million for readiness-essential training facilities, including National Guard Readiness Centers, as well as simulation centers and ranges;
  • Maintenance and Production Facilities – $1.5 billion for maintenance and production facilities, including aircraft and vehicle maintenance shops, aircraft hangars and equipment maintenance facilities;
  • Support Facilities – $1.1 billion for other facilities such as munitions, parts, and fuel storage, flightline support, and administrative buildings;
  • Hospitals, Medical Facilities, and Educational Facilities – $860.3 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 Initiatives – $195 million for energy resilience, efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation projects, which is $45 million above the President’s budget request;
  • Base Closure and Realignment – $277.5 million for environmental cleanup of bases closed under the BRAC process, $10 million above the President’s budget request 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.

The bill includes an additional $498 million in military construction funding for unspecified Army, Navy and Marine Corps, Air Force, Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Army Reserve, and Air Force Reserve Unfunded Requirements (UFRs) for military construction. The additional funding in the bill allows the services to fund their highest priority unfunded projects.

Finally, in addition to the $10.3 billion provided for Military Construction and Family Housing, the bill includes $921 million in funding 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 .

Veterans Affairs

For the Department of Veterans Affairs, the bill provides $86.45 billion in discretionary funding.  This is $4.97 billion above fiscal year 2018 enacted and $1.1 billion over the President’s budget request.  The ability to fund VA’s programs at these higher levels is a direct result of the bipartisan budget agreement for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.  The additional room in the budget caps allowed the Committee to increase investments into VA’s medical care system, capital infrastructure, claims processing, and medical research. 

The bill does not provide any funding for the mandatory Veterans Choice Program.  Congress recently passed the MISSION Act which provided $5.2 billion in direct spending to continue the Choice Program through of May 2019.  Under the MISSION Act, the Choice program would be discontinued in May of 2019, and replaced with the new consolidated and streamline Community Care Program.  Unfortunately, the MISSION Act did not provide resources to pay for this program for the remainder of fiscal year 2019, which could cost up to $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2019 and $8.7 billion in fiscal year 2020.  The Bipartisan Budget Agreement, upon which the funding level of this bill is based, did not assume taking on these mandatory costs.  This issue must be addressed or the VA risks running into shortfalls as early as May 2019.

Key VA programs funded in the bill:

  • VA Medical Care – The bill includes an additional $750 million for VA in-house medical services (bringing the total for Medical Services to $49.9 billion), and an additional $1 billion for the Medical Community Care account (bringing the total for Medical Community Care to $9.4 billion). 
  • Opioid Prevention and Safety – $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.
  • Infrastructure Backlogs – The Committee recommendation includes an additional $2 billion, as outlined in the bipartisan budget agreement, specifically for infrastructure and maintenance backlogs.  The funding is divided in the following manner:
    • $1 billion for non-recurring maintenance;
    • $500 million for minor construction; and,
    • $500 million for major construction ($300 million for previously authorized partially funded projects and $200 million for the Seismic Safety Initiatives).

This funding is on top of the $3.3 billion provided in base funding for major construction, minor construction, and non-recurring maintenance.

  • Medical and Prosthetic Research – The bill includes an additional $51.6 million over the President’s budget request for Medical Research, bringing the total for fiscal year 2019 to $779 million.
  • Veterans Benefits – The bill includes an additional $87 million over the President’s budget request for the VBA to increase its workforce to process disability claims, work down the appellate backlog, and better provide better case management for the Vocational Rehabilitation Employment program.
  • Caregivers Program – The bill includes $860.8 million for the VA Caregivers program, $365 million above the President’s budget request.
  • Seismic Safety Initiative – VA has identified a seismic risk in excess of $7 billion at its facilities. To address this critical veteran safety issue, the bill includes $600 million in 2019. This includes $400 million as requested by the Department and an additional $200 million as part of the $2 billion infrastructure backlog appropriation.  This line item account will provide funding to correct critical seismic issues across VA facilities.
  • National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – The bill includes $40 million for the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD), $20.32 million over the President’s budget request.  The NCPTSD is the Federal Government’s foremost center of expertise on evidence-based treatment of post-traumatic stress.
  • Veteran Homelessness Prevention – $1.889 billion for homeless veteran programs –$135 million above the President’s budget request.  This includes $450 million for the Supportive Services for Low Income Veterans and families ($130 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 Health – $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.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans – $7 billion to treat more than 1 million OEF/OIF/OND/OIR veterans estimated to seek care through the VA health system in fiscal year 2019.
  • Mental Health – $8.6 billion for mental health services, $468 million over the fiscal year 2018 level.  This includes $366 million for posttraumatic stress disorder; $636 million on substance abuse; and $190 million on Suicide Prevention Outreach.
  • Long-Term Care – $9.024 billion for Long Term Care, including $6.2 billion in institutional care and $2.9 billion in non-institutional obligations. 

Related Agencies

The bill funds four small but key 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.

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 bill provides $81 million in funding, $2 million more than fiscal year 2018 enacted and $5.9 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 bill 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 bill provides $81 million for ANC and an additional $56.6 million for the expansion of the cemetery.

The bill includes $64.5 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.