Reintroducing Legislation to Secure Timely Funding for Veterans' Health Care through Advance Appropriations
Last month, I joined a bipartisan group of Senators and Members of Congress in reintroducing legislation today to secure timely funding for veterans' health care through the "advance appropriations" process. I stood with Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), other members of Congress, and leaders from several veterans service organizations and called for sufficient, timely and predictable funding for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) within the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA).
I appreciate the sentiments of Secretary Shinseki to approve and implement future VA budgets on time, but we must also recognize the various obstacles that frequently prevent this from happening. The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 is a way to explore a new manner in which to fund the VA. We need to consider a historic new approach to guarantee that our veterans have access to comprehensive, quality health care that they deserve and have earned. There is no greater priority facing our nation than providing health care to our veterans and we must be willing to pay the cost, whatever that cost may be. For too many years, VA has had to make do with insufficient budgets resulting in restricted access for many veterans. When funding is short, it is our veterans who pay the price.
H.R. 1016 would authorize Congress to approve VA medical care appropriations one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year. Unlike proposals to convert VA health care to a mandatory funding program, an advance appropriation does not create PAYGO concerns since VA health care funding would remain discretionary. Congress employs a PAYGO rule which demands that new proposals must either be budget neutral or offset with savings derived from existing funds. In addition, an advance appropriation would provide VA with up to a year in which to plan how to deliver the most efficient and effective care to an increasing number of veterans with increasingly complex medical conditions.
There is no question that we've made great strides towards correcting these funding problems during the past two years. However, this new legislation offers us a historic opportunity to permanently reform the VA health care budget process in a commonsense way to help ensure that future generations never again face these kinds of problems.
Legislation to Ensure Parity for Veterans Taking On-Line Courses
I recently introduced a bill to address the housing needs of veterans pursuing higher education opportunities. H.R. 950 would allow veterans taking distance learning courses to receive a housing stipend, under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill.
The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill was signed into law on June 30, 2008, and is the greatest overhaul of the G.I. Bill in more than twenty years. The bill authorized an expansion in education benefits for veterans and provides tuition to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars based on the cost of the most expensive four year public university in the state. The new law, which is set to go into effect on August 1, 2009, offers a housing allowance to eligible veterans. Under current law, the housing allowance is payable to veterans who are not on active duty, who are attending school at least half-time, and who are enrolled in at least one course at an on-site facility. The amount of the housing stipend is determined by the location of the educational institution.
H.R. 950 waives the requirement that a student must take at least one class on-site in order to receive the housing stipend. The housing stipend would continue to be determined by the zip code of the school.
It doesn't make sense to penalize a hard working student who is taking classes just because the courses they are taking are administered on-line. These veterans fought for our country, came back home, enrolled in school, and are working to get a college degree. There should not be a distinction between those who attend a brick and mortar classroom versus those who study at home and take their tests on a computer. Supporters of this bill are standing up for disabled veterans, veteran families, rural veterans, and single-parent households who are getting an education and working to better their life.
Helping Border Communities Meet Clean Air Standards
Last month, I introduced the Foreign Air Impact Regulation (FAIR) Air Act, H.R. 677, to prevent border communities from being penalized for not meeting air pollution regulations due to emissions from a foreign country.
We can't put this international problem on the backs of Americans who just happen to live along the border. The solution requires bi-national cooperation and it is critical that we work towards that end. We all breathe the same air!.
For communities that would meet these standards if not for foreign pollution, the FAIR Air Act would grant an extension to implement bi-national air quality improvement plans.
Introducing the Military Environmental Responsibility Act
In February, I introduced the Military Environmental Responsibility Act, H.R. 672, which would require the Department of Defense (DOD) to fully comply with Federal and State environmental laws.
Military exemptions from environmental requirements harm human health by polluting our water, air, and soil. Communities around military bases should be protected equally from harmful waste and by-products, just like any other American town. Cleaning up after ourselves is the responsible course of action.
In the past, the San Diego Naval Base piped more than 14 million gallons of raw sewage into the San Diego Bay. However, the DOD was exempted from paying for damages as a result of sovereign immunity through the Clean Water Act.
Californians Will See Immediate and Long-Term Benefit from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan
Recently, I hailed the signing of critical legislation to create and save 3.5 million American jobs. President Obama's job creation package passed by Congress will rebuild America, making us more globally competitive and energy independent, and transforming our economy for long-term growth; give about 95 percent of American workers an immediate tax cut; and invest quickly in the economy.
President Obama has signed into law his historic plan to create and save 3.5 million jobs and start to get the American economy back on track. No mission is more critical to the American people, and the President and Congress got this done just three weeks after his inauguration.
This economic recovery plan will create American jobs now, provide one of the largest tax cuts in American history, and lay a foundation for long-term growth through clean energy, innovation and education. The legislation also has unprecedented accountability and transparency measures to help ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and effectively - including no earmarked projects and a new recovery.gov website allowing Americans to track the investments.
America is facing an economic crisis greater than any since the Great Depression, with a staggering 3.6 million American jobs lost in the last 13 months and an unemployment rate here in California that has climbed to 9.3 percent. As the President works to address the mortgage foreclosure crisis and get credit flowing in our financial system, this plan will begin to turn our economy around and bring jobs, relief and hope for Californians.
This jobs and economic recovery plan contains strategic efforts:
Creating or saving 396,000 jobs here in California over the next two years;
Providing a Making Work Pay tax cut of up to $800 for 12,420,000 workers and their families - designed to start paying out immediately into workers' paychecks - as well as tax cuts to spur businesses large and small;
Transforming Our Economy With Clean, Efficient, American Energy and Innovation and Technology that will create more than 1 million jobs;
Lowering Health Care Costs and improving care by computerizing medical records - which will create hundreds of thousands of jobs - and helping those who cannot afford health care in these tough times;
Modernizing Roads and Bridges to create jobs with an extra $2.57 billion here in California, along with other critical infrastructure like high-speed rail: the boldest investment since the creation of the interstate highway system a half century ago!;
Education for the 21st Century, modernizing schools and making college more affordable with improved Pell Grants for the 744,236 Pell Grant recipient here in California and a higher education tax credit for 522,000 students in our state;
Helping Workers Hurt by the Economy, including more than 1.7 million Californians that are out of work, those who have lost their health care, and seniors; and
Saving the Jobs of teachers, police officers, health care workers, and protecting the vital services they provide.
It will take time to turn this economy around, but we are confident that this package will make our economy stronger and more resilient. This jobs and recovery plan will create or save an estimated 396,000 jobs in California by the end of 2010, according to the White House. Congress will continue to work with the President to get credit flowing again, keep more Americans from losing their homes, and bring common sense to Wall Street so that our economic recovery is more effective and sustained. Americans have always come together in the face of challenges and we will once again with the swift and bold leadership of President Obama.
Calling for Proper Environmental Mitigation Measures for the California Border!
Late last month, I contacted the newly appointed Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar to include, on a list for funding and implementation, environmental mitigation projects along the California border with Mexico related to border security efforts.
Unfortunately, vital environmental laws were waived last year when border wall construction was pushed forward, and it has caused damage to our border communities. I am glad that the DOI under the Obama Administration is taking steps in the right direction to evaluate the environmental impacts of border security efforts and to address resulting problems, such as flooding.
Recently, the DOI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) entered into an agreement to facilitate mitigation measures associated with border fences and related infrastructure. The agencies will work together to minimize the negative impact of border security on public land resources along the border. As the DOI compiles a comprehensive list of mitigation projects, $50 million is set aside for their implementation from the FY 2009 Border Security, Fencing, Infrastructure and Technology Appropriation.
The DOI absolutely needs to include mitigation projects along the California border, or else my district will continue to suffer the repercussions!
Legislation to Allow DOD and Civilian Police Coordination
In February, I re-introduced the Department of Defense and Civilian Law Enforcement Coordination Act, H.R. 675, which would amend federal law to permit Department of Defense (DOD) law enforcement officers to better coordinate and cooperate with civilian law enforcement agencies.
I drafted this legislation in cooperation with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) because many DOD law enforcement officers are currently prohibited from basic coordination with civilian agencies near DOD facilities. We need to ensure that federal, state, and local law enforcement are able to work together to apprehend criminals and to prevent and solve crimes.
Obama Budget 2010:
Responding to the Needs of Our Veteran
I applaud President Obama's budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs. After sixteen years on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, I am very encouraged that this outline is consistent with recommendations made by the veterans' groups who co-author the Independent Budget (IB). This has never happened in the IB's 23-year history!
This budget request will increase funding for VA by 15% this year and by $25 billion over the next five years, including a proposed $4.9 billion increase for Fiscal Year 2010. After years of funding neglect and budget shortfalls, I commend President Obama on this honest assessment of the funding needs of the VA.
This budget outline provides a path to restoring and revitalizing the services provided to veterans. For homeless veterans, it means improved support services to combat this national disgrace. For rural veterans, it means increased services and enhanced outreach for mental health care and traumatic brain injuries. For returning veterans, it means timely implementation of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to expand educational entitlements.
At long last, Congress has received a budget request that will help expand health care to more than 500,000 veterans. We face the very real prospect of more and more of our veterans facing economic hardships and losing access to medical care, but this is a critical investment in meeting their needs. There are too many uninsured veterans who need medical care and cannot afford it and I am extremely pleased that President Obama is committed to restoring health care eligibility for our veterans.
The service and sacrifice of our veterans is real, and the budget for the VA not only provides realistic funding levels to meet these needs, it also reinforces the sacred trust our nation has with its veterans.
Presenting the Purple Heart Certificate to a Deceased Veteran's Niece
I recently presented a Purple Heart Certificate to Evangelina Guilin Salgado, a resident of Calexico. The Purple Heart was awarded to her deceased uncle, Private First Class Salvador Guilin, in recognition of his unwavering courage and honor while serving with the 88th Infantry Division during World War II.
Pictured here with me are Evangelina and her husband, Vincente Salgado.
Constituent Mail Bag
From San Ysidro:
With the recent outbreak of salmonella in peanut butter now
added to the long list of unsafe and deadly food recalls in our
nation, I urge you to consider implementing real food safety
reforms and to pass comprehensive legislation overhauling the Food and Drug Administration now.
Congressman Filner replies:
Thank you for contacting me about the importance of food safety.
I wholeheartedly agree that it is essential that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take steps to ensure the safety of our entire food supply. You will be happy to know that I have co-sponsored the Food Safety Modernization Act, which would provide the FDA with the regulatory tools to recall products, and the authority to penalize companies for knowingly selling tainted products. I will work with my colleagues for the most stringent standards for consumer protection!
I appreciate your advocacy on this important issue.
Cool Website: The Official Tourism Site of Washington D.C.
Spring time is here, which means many of you will venture to our national capital. For the latest information on events, attractions, and to create your own experience during your visit to Washington, D.C. visit: Washington.org - Official Tourism Site of Washington, DC
Additionally, please be sure to contact me before you come to town. For a list of services my office can provide you, please see my visit Washington D.C. page!