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Congressman Bishop Statement on Supporting Military/Veterans Through the Federal Budget
[January 18, 2014]

Congressman Bishop Statement on Supporting Military/Veterans Through the Federal Budget

(Targeted News Service Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 -- Rep. Sandford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga. (2nd CD), issued the following news release: Today, Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Ranking Member of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, spoke on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the inclusion of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill into the FY2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill. Congressman Bishop voted in favor of the legislation. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 359 to 67, passed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 72 to 26, and now goes on to the President for signature.

To view a video of Congressman Bishop's remarks, please click here. The full text of Congressman Bishop's remarks as prepared for delivery are as follows: I thank the gentlewoman for yielding.

Mr. Speaker, the MilCon/VA portion of this Omnibus Bill allocation provides a total of $73.3 billion for the FY 2014 MilCon/VA bill, a total which is $1.3 billion above FY 2013. The MilCon portion of this bill provides sufficient funding for our military facilities world-wide, including family housing, and is adequately funded to meet their needs.

The Veterans Affairs (VA) portion is funded at $63.2 billion. Overall, the Omnibus meets the discretionary budget request in all areas of administrative expenses, research, information technology, and facilities for VA. In addition, the bill contains $55.6 billion in advance appropriations for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities at the VA, which is $1.1 billion above the amount provided in the FY 2013.

This bill also takes concrete steps to pinpoint and address the serious issues of the VA's claims backlog and inter-operability of the Department of Defense' and VA's electronic health record systems. For example, addressing the claims backlog, the agreement includes a 10-point action plan which we believe will give the VA additional tools to reinforce personnel resources, training, and quality oversight as well as strengthen accountability by upgrading equipment and broadening access to electronic medical records.

This plan not only focuses only on increasing productivity of the Department but also on individual claim processors' accuracy. This effort will ensure that veterans receive fair compensation at the outset and do not encounter additional delays by having to appeal decisions.

Regarding the merging of the Department of Defense and VA's Electronic Health Record systems, the agreement makes it very clear to both Departments that an interoperable record system, that actually works, is the chief end-goal for Congress.

The evolution and/or procurement of new health record systems is an important project for both Departments to undertake, but the effort with be a futile exercise if it results in the development of two interoperable systems, defined as the ability to exchange computable information electronically.

Before I close Mr. Speaker, I would like to recognize the hardworking staff - Donna Shahbaz and her team on the Majority side, Matt Washington on the Minority staff, and Michael Reed on my personal staff for all of the amazing work and time they have put into this bill and supporting our Subcommittee's efforts.

I would also like to thank Mrs. Lowey and Mr. Rogers, who serve as the distinguished Ranking Member and Chairman of this Committee.

I yield back.

BACKGROUND: The bill includes funding for key military infrastructure projects to support our troops and their families at home and abroad. It also includes increased funding to meet our obligations to our nation's veterans - including helping to reduce the claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Military Construction/Veterans Affairs portion of the Omnibus discretionary total is $73.3 billion - $1.4 billion above the enacted Fiscal Year 2013 level.

Military Construction - The bill provides $9.8 billion for military construction projects, which is a decrease of $817 million from the enacted Fiscal Year 2013 level. These programs include large and small construction and rehabilitation projects on military bases in the U.S. and overseas that support our troops and their families.

* Military Family Housing - The bill provides $1.5 billion to fund construction, operation, and maintenance of military family housing for Fiscal Year 2014. This is $133 million below the enacted Fiscal Year 2013 level, a result of savings from the privatization of family housing. The funding will ensure quality housing is continued for 1,231,044 military families whose loved ones are serving the country.

* Military Medical Facilities - The bill includes $796 million for construction and alterations for new or existing military medical facilities. These facilities support and care for 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries, including our wounded troops abroad.

* Department of Defense (DoD) Education Facilities - The bill includes $798 million for essential safety improvements and infrastructure work at 17 DoD Education Activities facilities located within the U.S. and overseas. This funding will help address health, safety, and efficiency problems at these facilities for military children and families.

* Guard and Reserve - The bill includes $665.8 million for construction or alteration of Guard and Reserve facilities in 25 states.

* Georgia Projects * $37,304 for the White Elementary School replacement at Fort Benning; * $6,031 for the Faith Middle School addition at Fort Benning; * $15,600 for a weapons storage and inspection facility at the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany; * $1,010 for a Navy dispatch facility at the Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany; * $61,000 for an advanced individual training barracks complex at Fort Gordon; * $44,504 for the Diamond Elementary School Replacement at Fort Stewart; * $13,500 for the replacement of fuel island at Hunter Army Airfield; * $3,800 for the replacement of the ground vehicle fueling facility at Moody Air Force Base; * $61,717 for the acquisition of land for a Navy bombing range in Savannah.

Veterans Affairs (VA) - The legislation includes a total of $147.9 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This funding will help provide our nation's veterans with the services and care they have earned from their dedicated service to the country. Discretionary funding for VA programs in the agreement is $63.2 billion, which is $2.3 billion above the enacted Fiscal Year 2013 level.

* VA Medical Services - The agreement funds VA medical services at $43.6 billion - providing for approximately 6.5 million patients to be treated in Fiscal Year 2014. Some of these funds include: $7.2 billion in mental health care services; $103 million in suicide prevention activities; $246 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; $6.2 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; and $250 million in rural health initiatives.

* DoD-VA Electronic Health Record - The agreement ensures that the Departments of Defense and VA are developing electronic health records that will seamlessly transfer medical information between the two agencies, providing $323 million for these efforts within the VA. The legislation also includes language to ensure the VA creates a truly interoperable, working system in a timely and cost-effective fashion to help prevent unnecessary mistakes or delays in veterans' medical care.

* Disability Claims Processing Backlog - The legislation includes a major crosscutting initiative that will help the VA meet its goal of ending the disability compensation claims backlog by 2015. This includes: * $140 million - an increase of $20 million above the President's request and $26 million above the Fiscal Year 2013 enacted level - for information technology upgrades at regional offices to manage the improved paperless claims processing system; * $90 million for potential overtime, and $10 million for additional training for claims processors; * $88 million - a $13 million increase above the President's request - for the Board of Veterans Appeals to address the growing appeals backlog; * Provisions directing audits to assess performance and rigorous public monthly reporting requirements to track the performance of each regional office on claims processing.

* Construction - Minor Construction within the VA is funded at $715 million which is the same as the President's request and $108 million above the Fiscal Year 2013 enacted level. This funding will allow the VA to make progress on hundreds of projects, including the construction or renovation of health clinics and nursing homes. In addition, the agreement provides an additional $85 million for non-recurring maintenance for medical facilities beyond the $710 million already provided in advance for Fiscal Year 2014.

* VA Mandatory Funding - The agreement fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: veteran disability compensation programs for 4.2 million veterans and their survivors; post-9-11 GI bill education benefits for more than 764,000 veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 175,000 veterans.

* Oversight - The legislation includes provisions to increase oversight of taxpayer dollars at the VA, including requiring the agency to report on construction expenditures and savings, forbidding changes in the scope of construction projects, and restricting the agency from taking certain spending actions without notifying Congress.

Advance Appropriations for Veterans Medical Programs - The agreement contains $55.6 billion in advance fiscal year 2015 funding for the VA - the same level provided in the House budget resolution. 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.

TNS 30TacordaCheng-140118-4607175 30TacordaCheng (c) 2014 Targeted News Service

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