MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008 -- (House of Representatives - June 15, 2007)
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Mr. LARSON of Connecticut. Mr. Chairman, I rise in strong support of H.R. 2642, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2008, the annual spending bill for military construction and veterans' programs.
Today, the House is considering a bill that would appropriate $109.2 billion, with $64.7 billion in discretionary spending for military construction and veterans' programs, which is $4 billion more than the President's fiscal year 2008 budget request. The bill would provide $43.2 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which is $6.7 billion above 2007 and $3.8 billion over the President's request for veterans' medical care, claims processing personnel, and facility improvements. This includes $28.9 billion in funding to improve access to medical services for all veterans, which is $1.7 billion above the President's request. This legislation also defeats the President's ill-advised proposals to nearly double co-pays for prescription drugs for veterans and to increase TRICARE premiums by over $1,000 a year for military retirees.
The military health care system is understaffed and drowning in a backlog of cases and unable to provide our veterans with the benefits and resources they sacrificed a great deal to earn. In an effort to reduce the 400,000 claim backlog, the bill also includes $1.6 billion in funding to enable the VA to hire over 1100 more claims processors. This legislation is the largest single increase in the 77-year history of the VA and for the first time in 21 years that the House has exceeded the request of the veterans' Independent Budget.
There are over 251,000 veterans living in Connecticut and I am pleased the 110th Congress has made funding our Nation's military health care system a top priority. Since the previous Congress adjourned without passing a budget, the new Congress passed a Continuing Appropriations Resolution (P.L. 110-5) that provided $3.4 billion over the fiscal year 2006 funding level to fund the VA in fiscal year 2007. In addition, the Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-28) added $1.8 billion directly targeted at the needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Part of the cost of war is to care for our servicemen and women when they return home and Congress has an obligation to ensure they receive appropriate care.
I applaud the leadership of Mr. EDWARDS, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Mr. OBEY, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and the members of the committee for their efforts and continued commitment to our Nation's veterans. Today's legislation takes us one step further in providing our veterans with the best health care and resources our country can provide and I encourage my colleagues to join me in voting for it and the President in signing it into law.
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