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Issue Position: Defense/Veterans' Affairs - Veterans' Affairs

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Veterans fought to protect our freedoms and way of life. Just as they served our nation in a time of need, the government must remember them in their time of need. Congress has worked hard to support our veterans, and I would like to share some of our accomplishments with you.

The House-passed FY04 Consolidated Appropriations Bill provides for record funding for Veterans Programs. It allocates a total of $28.6 billion in total budgetary resources available for the Veteran's Health Administration; this is a $2.8 billion increase over the previous year and $1.6 billion larger than the president's request. This funding is consistent with the level of increases provided to the VA over the past five years and brings veterans funding to the highest level in our nation's history. Programs that will be funded at record levels include:

* Veterans Health Care-Spending on veterans' health care would increase by 12% over FY03 spending. The bill provides total resources of $28.6B for the Veterans Health Administration: $17.9 billion plus $1.6 billion from the collections fund for Medical Services; $5 billion for Medical Administration; $4 billion for Medical Facilities and $408 million for Medical Research - a total of $1.57 over the budget request and $2.9 billion over last year. This record level of funding will not result in the reduction of nursing home care and will ensure that all needy veterans receive the health care they deserve.

* Fully funds the Administration's request to expedite claims processing at the Veterans Benefits Administration bringing total FY04 funding to $1 billion.

* Fully funds the President's request for the National Cemetery Administration, bringing FY04 funding to $144 million, $12 million above last year's level.

* Fully funds the President's request for Veterans State Extended Care Facilities bringing total funding to $102 million, $3 million above last year's level.

* Increases other Veteran's benefits including disability and pension payments on the mandatory side by $1 billion over last year.

* Congress also rejected a proposal to more than double the prescription drug co-payment for category 7 and 8 veterans. This proposal was stripped from the bill by voice vote in the Appropriations Committee's review of the VA/HUD bill. I was pleased to add my voice to those opposing the increased co-payment.

The House has also approved legislation that will extend concurrent receipt to more of our military retirees than have ever been provided under current law. Groups who will now receive full concurrent receipt include:

* All military retirees with Purple Heart or Combat Related disabilities

* All retired national guardsmen and reservists who are Purple Heart recipients or who are CRSC qualified. Currently, very few of these men qualify for concurrent receipt.

* The most disabled military retirees (50% and above): While current law gave no remaining military retirees concurrent receipt, the House plan provides the most disabled military retirees (50% and above) full concurrent receipt.

The plan represents the most significant, positive step forward for disabled veterans in our nation's history. It is supported by national veteran service organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, Military Officers Association of American Veterans of Foreign Wars, and many others. I am also a cosponsor of HR 303, which provides full concurrent receipt for all veterans.

Congress has also passed legislation to provide for improved job training, education and placement. The Jobs for Veterans Act, of which I was the chief author, was included as part of the House-approved "Veterans Benefits Act" legislation. My legislation will provide military men and women stationed outside the US with access to employment opportunities. It mandates that the US Department of Labor place staff in overseas veterans' assistance offices, which are located on military installations, 90 days after the bill becomes law. According to the provision, the Department of Labor must place six people at overseas points in Europe and South East Asia. Like VA employees, Department of Labor employees could visit 20 to 25 bases to help servicemen and women find jobs.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee as well as a member of the VA-HUD subcommittee, I hope to use my position to continue to support robust funding for our veterans programs. I am proud to support the veterans who fought so valiantly in defense of our nation. Veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to preserve our way of life, and the American people are indebted to the men and women who served our nation. Rest assured, I will keep working to ensure that veterans' programs receive adequate funding so that veterans receive the treatment and care they deserve.


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