Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, praised passage of the FY09 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations, HR 6599. The bill contains a record level of funding for programs for America's veterans and military construction projects.
"Our military troops and veterans deserve the best possible treatment and care, and this bill goes a long ways to addressing those needs." Simpson said. "It will improve access to medical services, increase the travel reimbursement rate to help veterans cope with high gas prices, and provides funding to improve our military and VA facilities across the country."
This legislation provides critical funding for military construction and housing as well as veterans administrative and health programs. The Veterans Health Administration estimates they will treat more than 5.8 million patients in 2009 including more than 333,275 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan (40,000 more than 2008). Funding will include:
- Medical Services: $30.9 billion to improve access to medical services for all veterans.
- Medical Facilities: $5 billion, including a $300 million increase for on-going maintenance and renovations of existing facilities to address identified shortfalls and to ensure the Department's facilities remain capable of delivering world class medicine. The Department currently estimates a maintenance backlog of over $5 billion.
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse: $3.8 billion for specialty mental health care and $584 million for substance abuse programs.
- Medical and Prosthetic Research: $500 million for research to help improve the quality of life for injured and aging veterans and to conduct trauma and mental health research.
- Construction: $1.9 billion to fulfill the Department's commitment to fund recommendations made by the Capitol Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES), which was established to look at facilities and determine their construction needs.
- Beneficiary Travel: Increases the beneficiary travel reimbursement rate from 28.5 cents per mile to 41.5 cents per mile.
- Assistance for Homeless Vets: $130 million for the homeless grants and per diem program, rejecting the President's $8 million cut and the same as 2008, including $32 million to hire additional personnel for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program.
- Military Housing: $3.2 billion to further eliminate inadequate military housing.
- Quality of Life Initiative: $336 million to continue a quality of life initiative for troops and their families.
"This legislation addresses many critical needs to better serve our military troops and veterans," said Simpson. "There is no better way to honor our troops than to ensure that they have the best possible care and treatment when they return home, and this bill goes a long way to doing just that."
This legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 409-4 and will next be considered by the U.S. Senate.