.0915 -- (House of Representatives - May 19, 2006)
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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Speaker, I regret that I could not be present today because of a family medical emergency and I would like to submit this statement for the Record in opposition to the previous question and H. Res. 821, the rule providing for consideration of the FY2007 Military Quality of Life appropriations bill (H.R. 5385).
The Veterans' Administration has treated more than 144,000 returning veterans from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and nearly 30,000 veterans are waiting in line for their first appointment--nearly double the number last year. However, funding for veterans and military retiree health care has barely kept pace with the increasing demand. As a result our young men and women will return home from Iraq and Afghanistan to a health care system that is struggling to take care of current veterans--let alone new ones.
While the bill before us today is certainly an improvement over last year's bill, it still under-funds critical programs and services that our veterans and military retirees rely on. For instance, even as the Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 5122) we passed last week rightfully rejected the President's plan to increase fees for military retirees, this bill still falls $735 million short of the level needed to ensure that military retirees do not face having their TRICARE fees doubled or tripled. In addition, this bill uses a budgeting gimmick to designate $507 million for 20 military construction projects as emergency spending so that the committee could keep the overall total under the bill's allocation level--jeopardizing this critical funding by leaving it vulnerable to procedural points of order that could strip it from this bill. Finally, this bill provides $25.4 billion for veteran's medical services--$2.6 billion more than last year, but still $400 million below the recommendation of the Independent Budget and $2.8 billion below the level recommended by the House Veterans Affairs Committee Democrats.
Unfortunately, Democratic amendments to address these shortcomings were rejected by Republicans on the Appropriations Committee and are blocked from being considered here today by this rule. These pragmatic measures would have made this a stronger bill that fulfils our promise to our military retirees and veterans. I urge the defeat of the previous question and this rule so that we can debate critical amendments to ensure that veterans and military retirees get the timely, quality, and affordable health care they deserve.
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