CONGRESSMAN BISHOP ON FY 2016 MILCON/VA APPROPRIATIONS BILL
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, voted against H.R. 2029, the Fiscal Year 2016 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations government spending bill. The bill weakens national security, sidelines necessary military construction, and shortchanges our nation’s investment in medical care for veterans. Most of the nation’s Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs), including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, were highly critical of the bill passed by the House of Representatives.
“Without a doubt, the Department of Veterans Affairs has struggled to provide quality accessible care to our nation’s veterans,” said Congressman Bishop. “The Majority’s move to deny the VA vital resources will undercut much needed internal reform. Rather, their reductions will have very real consequences by creating dangerous gaps in access and utilization of vital services provided to our veterans and their families, lowering overall quality of care, hurting the middle class, and weakening our economy in the process.”
Leaders in the advocacy for veterans and their families, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and The American Legion have noted H.R. 2029 “is set to penalize disabled veterans” and “impede VA's mission” if signed into law with the proposed inadequate levels of funding.
“The VA cannot fulfill its mission without proper funding, but the House for whatever reason now wants to ration care, eliminate infrastructure projects, and stop improving upon the programs and services that the VA was created to provide,” said John W. Stroud, VFW national commander and leader of the 1.9 million-member VFW and its Auxiliaries. “This bill is bad for veterans and any vote for it is unconscionable.”
“Secretary McDonald has been upfront and, above all, realistic in asking for full funding of the president’s FY 2016 request,” said Matthew Miller, Chief Policy Officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Reform of the VA, its facilities and its infrastructure are monumental tasks. Unfortunately these challenges become almost unobtainable with a reduction in funding outlined in the House’s mark.”
"Regardless of political gamesmanship being played between Congress and the White House, The American Legion expects VA to be fully funded," said Michael D. Helm, National Commander of the American Legion. "We agree with Secretary McDonald that cutting his department's budget by more than a billion dollars is unacceptable."
Regarding H.R. 2029, please click here for more information regarding the stance of the VFW, here for more information regarding the stance of The American Legion, and here for more information regarding the stance of the IAVA.
As the leader on this bill and Ranking Member of the MilCon/VA Appropriations Subcommittee, Congressman Bishop managed the Floor debate for House Democrats. He also offered an amendment to fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs.
H.R. 2029 passed 255 to 163 and now goes on to the Senate for debate. For more information on funding levels and other key provisions in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs Bill, please click here.
Veterans Affairs Medical Care
The $585 million reduction to the FY 2016 Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Care request would negatively impact medical care services for tens of thousands of veterans and reduce VA's ability to activate new and replacement facilities with sufficient staff and equipment and to adequately maintain facility infrastructure.
Veterans Affairs Construction
The $582 million reduction to the FY 2016 VA major construction request would prevent building upgrades and renovations, including necessary expansions to medical facilities and national cemeteries that would improve services to our veterans. The bill would significantly constrain VA's ability to make progress on its highest priority capital projects.
Other Veterans Affairs Reductions
As VA attempts to enhance staffing to deliver better care to veterans, the $159 million in reductions to the VA requests for employee awards, bonuses, and the proposed 1.3 percent pay raise for Federal employees will hinder the Department's ability to recruit and retain personnel critical to the provision of benefits and services to veterans.
The Committee's under-funding of military construction in the Pentagon’s FY 2016 base defense budget by $1.3 billion will delay or defer projects that serve critical needs for members of our Armed Forces and their families. The projects requested in the FY 2016 Budget reflect the highest priority projects for the Department of Defense. But the bill that was considered by the House of Representatives eliminates funding for four Major Construction projects and cemetery expansion projects, reducing the ability to provide burial honors for as many as 18,000 Veterans and eligible family members every year.
Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Funds
The Committee's use of $532 million of OCO funds intended for wars and not subject to the budget caps to pay for long-term infrastructure investments is bad budget policy and bad defense policy, since it undermines long-term planning.
Section 512 of the bill prohibits the use of funds to construct, renovate, or expand any facility in the United States to house individuals held in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. This provision would constrain the flexibility that the Nation's Armed Forces and counter-terrorism professionals need to best protect U.S. national security, intruding upon the Executive Branch's ability to carry out its mission.