MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2009 -- (House of Representatives - August 01, 2008)
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Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this bill.
I'm pleased that for the second year in a row, the 110th Congress is providing the funding necessary to meet the housing requirements of our servicemembers and their families, as well as the money needed to care for our veterans.
Let me begin by thanking Chairman Edwards for including report language directing the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to develop a plan to care for the veterans and military retirees in my district who would need health care services if Fort Monmouth's Patterson Army Health Clinic were to close in 2011. While I continue to oppose the decision to close Fort Monmouth and will continue to look for ways to reverse it, that decision is, for now, the law of the land. Accordingly, it is necessary to plan for meeting the medical needs of the many veterans and TRICARE beneficiaries in Central New Jersey in the event Fort Monmouth's medical facilities are closed. I'm pleased that the Committee is requiring that a report on how their needs will be met be delivered to Congress no later than January 30, 2009.
Overall, this bill would provide $40.7 billion for VA health programs, which is $3.1 billion over the current level. In addition to continuing to focus on providing adequate funding to treat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury, TBI, this bill would provide $400 million that was not requested by the President to start enrolling 10 percent of Priority 8 veterans in the VA medical system. The Priority 8 category is reserved for veterans whose injuries currently are not rated as service related and whose incomes are more than $24,644 if single or $29,576 for a veteran with a dependent. An estimated one half of all uninsured veterans are Priority 8, and Priority 8 veterans have not been enrolled since 2003 as part of an Administration effort to cut costs.
The bill also includes $200 million, which was not requested by the President, to improve access to care where Veterans Health Administration, VHA, services are not available. I am hopeful that this will assist both rural veterans seeking care and those living in urban or ex-urban communities that currently lack ready access to a VA community-based outpatient clinic.
The bill would provide $1.6 billion, $250 million more than last year, to provide veterans with more technologically advanced prostheses. The VA has a long and generally commendable track record in this area. However, I am pleased the committee recognizes the need for the VA to apply a greater emphasis on harnessing the latest technological breakthroughs to help give our wounded veterans the maximum possible personal mobility.
I am also grateful to the committee for providing $165 million for grants to States for the construction and renovation of extended care facilities. The President's proposed $80 million cut to this account was, frankly, unconscionable. The VA grant program that serves the State-run extended care facilities is critical. Many New Jersey veterans have visited with me over the past several years and described in detail the kinds of air conditioning, heating, and other upgrades that are vital to facilities such as the one in Paramus, New Jersey. I consistently have supported proper funding for this account, and I thank the committee for meeting this important need.
Finally, for our active duty community, this bill would provide $336 million that President Bush failed to request to continue a quality of life initiative for troops and their families started in the Fiscal Year 2008 Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R. 2642. The bill includes nearly $200 million for the Army and Marine Corps to improve the barracks that soldiers and Marines live in when they train. It also includes $136 million for medical military construction and planning activities to upgrade substandard medical treatment facilities. We have all seen the pictures and heard the stories about substandard living conditions for troops. I am pleased that the committee remains focused on fixing this problem as quickly as possible.
Mr. Chairman, this is a good bill that will help our active duty families and our veterans. I will vote for it and I urge my colleagues to do likewise.
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