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

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, July 13, 2017) – The fiscal year 2018 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill provides $192.8 billion in total funding, including $88.9 billion in discretionary funding, $6 billion more than fiscal year 2017 enacted and $568 million less than the President’s budget request. Mandatory funding, which is provided for veterans’ compensation, pension and education benefits, totals $103.9 billion, $1.4 billion more than fiscal year 2017 enacted and $561,000 more than the President’s budget request.

In addition to the fiscal year 2018 funding, the bill also provides $70.7 billion in fiscal year 2019 advance funding for veterans health care, equal to the President’s budget request, and $107.7 billion for fiscal year 2019 advance funding for the VA’s compensation and pensions mandatory accounts, $273,000 more than the President’s budget request.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, said:

“Our bill reflects the bipartisan tradition of this subcommittee and delivers strong funding that supports our veterans, service members and their families.  The increased funding in this bill will help our veterans, ensuring in-house medical care is available for more veterans, funding additional research, increasing staffing to process veterans disability claims appeals, and increasing the amount of money available for State Extended Care Facilities. But we are operating in the shadow of unsustainable Budget Control Act caps, and the additional funding for VA comes at the expense of other important domestic programs, including medical research, education, transportation and other national priorities.  We need a bipartisan budget agreement to deal with this so that we can get back to regular order and pass appropriations bills.”

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said:

“I want to thank Senator Moran and Senator Schatz for their work on this bill, which dedicates considerable resources for the support and care of our veterans.  This will provide much-needed funds to improve medical care and services for our veterans, who deserve no less, including in our rural areas like my home state of Vermont. 

“However, I want to make one thing very clear. We cannot finish the appropriations process without a budget deal in place.  It won’t happen.  The current caps will not allow us to produce 12 responsible bills.”

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 funds a wide range of programs for America’s 21.4 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.

Supporting Mission-Critical and Quality-of-Life Infrastructure for Our Nation’s Troops

The bill includes $9.5 billion for military construction and family housing, $1.8 billion more than the fiscal year 2017 enacted amount and $246.5 million less than the President’s budget request. An additional $638 million, equal to the President’s budget request, is provided for Overseas Contingency Operations military construction, including $306.9 million for projects in support of the European Reassurance Initiative. 

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, cryptologic centers, airfield improvements, and squadron operations facilities;
  • Training Facilities -- $934.5 million for readiness-essential training facilities, including ranges, National Guard readiness centers and Reserve Centers;
  • Maintenance and Production Facilities -- $1 billion for maintenance and production facilities, including aircraft and vehicle maintenance shops, aircraft hangars and equipment maintenance facilities;
  • Hospitals and Medical Facilities -- $556.4 million for facilities to provide health and dental care to military personnel and eligible dependents; 
  • Troop Housing --$326.3 million for barracks, dormitories and dining facilities;
  • Military Family Housing -- $1.4 billion for construction, operation and maintenance of family housing;
  • Energy Resilience and Conservation Initiatives -- $165 million for energy resilience, efficiency, renewable energy, and water conservation;
  • Base Closure and Realignment -- $255.9 million for environmental cleanup of bases closed under the BRAC process; and
  • NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP) -- $154 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 $478 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 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 services to fund their highest priority unfunded projects.

Supporting Our Nation’s Veterans

For the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the bill provides $78.4 billion in discretionary funding, $4 billion more than fiscal year 2017 enacted and $335.9 million less than the request.  Fiscal year 2018 mandatory funding for veterans compensation, pensions, education, and other benefits is funded at $103.9 billion, $1.4 billion more than fiscal year 2017 enacted and $561,000 more than the request.

Strengthening VA Healthcare Services

To improve the ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide in-house medical care to veterans and to support medical research and other healthcare priorities, the bill provides an additional $1.9 billion for Medical Services over the advance funding provided in fiscal year 2017, for total funding of $46.8 billion. This is $891 million more than the additional funding requested in the President’s budget request.  Included in this funding is $722.3 million for medical research, an increase of $82 million above the President’s budget. The bill also includes $9.7 billion for VA Community Care as requested – which includes $9.4 billion provided last year in fiscal year 2018 advance funding and an additional $254 million included in the President’s budget request.  This funding is to ensure that the VA will be able to utilize community providers to serve veterans who cannot receive the care they need at VA medical facilities but who do not qualify for the Veterans Choice Program.   

As helpful as this additional funding is, the VA is facing looming costs associated with unanticipated reliance on the VA healthcare system, legal liabilities associated with the Staab vs. McDonald judgment regarding the cost of providing emergency medical care to veterans, which resulted in the VA agreeing to pay damages that could approach $1 billion, and unrequested requirements for acquisition of a new electronic health record.  None of these anticipated costs were included in the President’s budget request or are funded in this bill.

Addressing the Backlog of VA Disability Appeals 

While the VA has made great strides over the past few years in reducing the backlog of disability claims, the backlog of disability claim appeals has continued to grow, exacerbated in part by a shortage of qualified personnel to process claims appeals. This bill provides an additional $76 million over the President’s budget request for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Board of Veterans Appeals (VBA) to provide additional staffing to assist in reducing the backlog of appeals. While this is a step in the right direction, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs testified that an additional $800 million would be needed over the next few years or appeals would continue to languish in the backlog until 2026.  Waiting another decade is unacceptable, and the Department needs to budget appropriately rather than expecting Congress to shift needed funding from other programs to cover liabilities within the budget request.

Grants for Construction of State Extended Care Facilities

The bill provides $110 million, $20 million more than fiscal year 2017 enacted and the President’s budget request, for the construction of State homes.  While this increase is helpful, it is far from sufficient to meet the requirement.  In fiscal year 2017, VA’s Priority One funding list consisted of 57 projects totaling over $630 million.  These are high priority projects that meet the State matching fund requirement and are ready to receive Federal matching funds.  However, due to inadequate budgeting, the program is only funded at $90 million for fiscal year 17.  At this rate, projects needed to improve the condition of State Veteran Homes or construct new facilities will remain on the shelf for years instead of moving forward to improve the lives of veterans across the country. 

Other VA Programs

The bill also includes increases for several high priority programs including:

  • An additional $236 million for the Caregivers Program, restoring the proposed cut contained in the President’s budget request bringing the total to $839.8 million
  • An additional $20 million for the Office of Rural Health and the Rural Health Initiative, bringing total funding to $270 million, to continue efforts to improve access to VA care in rural and remote areas
  • An additional $20 million for Supportive Services for Veterans and Families, bringing the total to $340 million to assist at-risk and homeless veterans move back into stable housing
  • An additional $20 million for women veterans specific care, bringing the total to $524.7 million
  • An additional $82 million for Medical and Prosthetic Research, bringing total to $722.3 million, $48.9 million over the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.

Related Agencies:  Small Fiscal Footprint but Important National Service

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 $79 million in funding, $3.9 million more than fiscal year 2017 enacted and 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 of the President’s budget request.

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, $10.2 million more than fiscal year 2017, to cover shortfalls in the cemetery’s operating expenses account due to budget restraints.

The bill includes $64.5 million for the Armed Forces Retirement Home account, which uses trust fund income to operate homes in Washington, D.C. and Gulfport, MS.

Schatz Amendment

Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday offered a $1.6 billion amendment that would have supported the health care of thousands of veterans across the country and bolstered the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The amendment, which was offered by Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), was rejected in Committee by a vote of 15 to 16.

The amendment was the first of a series to be offered by the Appropriations Committee Democrats to demand parity in budget priorities and show what Congress can and should be doing to invest in the American people and create jobs.

The rejection of the amendment leaves a nearly $1 billion hole in the budget that needs to be filled to sustain the thousands of doctors and nurses hired at VA facilities following the 2014 passage of the Veterans Choice Act.  President Trump’s budget did not fully account for those costs, and without additional funding the Department of Veterans Affairs will be unable to maintain the surge of new health care providers without delaying or sacrificing treatment.

The amendment would have provided $1.05 billion to sustain the new personnel costs and $550 million for State Extended Care Facilities and was offered during the markup of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations Bill.  The text of the amendment is available HERE, and audio of the markup is available HERE.


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CONTACT: Jay Tilton – 202-224-2667