MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (House of Representatives - June 15, 2007)
Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Mr. Chairman, first of all, I wish to rise to say that I appreciate the work of both the Chair and ranking member with regard to their work on behalf of veterans of this country.
The amendment that is before us is an amendment to seek increase in funds for the State veterans homes. It does so in the amount of $10 million. There are 126 facilities, veterans homes, across the 50 States and Puerto Rico. These are State veterans homes and they care for nearly 30,000 of our Nation's heroes. The number of veterans that are going to be requiring care is large and is going to continue to grow through the year 2020. And the conflict today is leading to more veterans that will need special care throughout the rest of their lives.
As many of our veterans move into these extended care facilities, we must continue here in this House to ensure that the facilities are both safe and comfortable for the residents. As you may know, there is an extensive list of backlogged projects just waiting for the funds, many of them in the area of critical health and safety needs. Of the $500 million of projects waiting for Federal funds, nearly half are classified as priority one.
We must also see that these facilities are able to provide for high quality of life as well for those individuals who have made great sacrifices in the past years for our Nation. These are homes, as I said before, for our heroes. They are not simply institutions that we are funding. If we are not able to fund the priority one projects that I am worried about, these homes will be inadequate and we will not be honoring our veterans.
The staff at these homes work hard to honor our veterans and work with them to provide that they have, for the remaining years of their lives, a comfortable environment. I have had the opportunity to spend some time in these veterans home, particularly the Paramus Veterans Home in my district in Bergen County, and I particularly had the chance to visit with the people who live there and the staff and their friends and relatives who come along. In addition to that, there are local veterans service organizations that have worked hard to secure State matching funds for these essential projects as well at this facility, just as their counterparts are doing the same sort of thing all across this country in their homes as well.
Finally, I would like to point this out, that our colleagues in the Senate Appropriations Committee just this week approved $250 million for this account. So including my amendment here would still mean that we are falling short of where the Senate is by around $75 million; so I therefore believe that this $10 million is well called for.
While this backlog is much greater than what this amendment can provide, I wanted to call attention to this difficulty these homes currently are facing and have been facing for some period of time, and I hope that we can work together now to find a way to honor these vets and make sure that they receive the best care and the best quality of life in their remaining days.
Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.
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Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Mr. Chairman, will the gentleman yield?
Mr. EDWARDS. I will be glad to yield to the gentleman.
Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. As you know, this is not an issue that is new. I actually brought this up and talked about this back early in the year in the Budget Committee, and we had a discussion on it at that time.
Just a question to you: That account you are referencing where we are drawing the money from has grown as well, has it not?
Two questions. And the second question is there are other aspects of that account other than just that provision that you are referencing; so does it necessarily mean, in your opinion, that if we do withdraw some funds from the fairly large account that it will have a detrimental effect on the area that you are specifying, one which I agree with?
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Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the gentleman's comments. And we are on the same page as far as both aspects that we wish the Department to deal with.
On this amendment, I think your comment was ``just not this year.'' And obviously as a Member who has been here 4 years now fighting, as you have also, probably before me, but myself here on this floor fighting for these
veterans homes, fighting literally for the ones back in my districts as well for the veterans there and seeing just the smallest improvements in just a certain number of the safety areas. And there are other area safety areas that would seem to me to need improvements in and health areas as well, and we just can't get the funds.
And the quality of life even goes beyond those issues as far as what these gentlemen need in these homes.
So I bring this amendment to the floor today for that reason, firstly. And secondly, also from a pragmatic point of view that this will go to the Senate and, as I did make the reference, that the Senate has already marked it up even significantly higher than what the gentleman has already done.
Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.
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