Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, today voted for H.R. 2216, the bipartisan FY 2014 Military Construction/VA Appropriations bill.
The bill provides $73.2 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2014, including $63.1 billion for Veterans Administration programs. The bill takes a number of steps to address the backlog of veterans' disability claims, including an increase in the number of claims processors, investment in the transition from paper to digital health records, new reporting requirements on the backlog, and the development of an integrated health records system with the Department of Defense.
"Overall, I am pleased with this year's MilCon/VA appropriations bill. It secures funding for quality health coverage for veterans and makes a good but incomplete effort to reduce the VA claims backlog," Congressman Garamendi said. "This legislation also invests in important military construction projects, including the new Distributed Common Ground Station (DCGS) Operations Facility at Beale Air Force Base."
The Air Force Distributed Common Ground System, or AF DCGS, is the service's premier globally networked intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance weapon system. The DCGS produces intelligence information collected by the U-2, RQ-4 Global Hawk, MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predator. The FY14 President's budget included a request for the $62 million, 85,000 square foot facility at Beale AFB.
"The MilCon/VA appropriations request is a solid compromise that I'm happy to support. I implore House Republican leadership to continue the consensus building that was forged in passing this bipartisan legislation, including an end to sequestration."
The bill specifically addresses the VA claims backlog by:
Supporting an increase of 94 veteran disability claims processors by fully funding General Operating Expenses for the Veterans Benefits Administration.
Requiring the VA to report monthly to Congress on several claims backlog reduction metrics -- including tracking the performance of each regional office on claims processing.
Providing $155 million for the paperless claims process system (Veterans Benefit Management System) and $136 million to convert paper health records into digital files.
Ensuring that the an electronic health record system is single, joint, common, and integrated, with an open architecture, and is the sole system used by both DoD and VA.
The bill funds VA medical services at $43.6 billion -- providing for approximately 6.5 million patients to be treated in fiscal year 2014. Some of these funds include:
$7.2 billion in mental health care services;
$103 million in suicide prevention activities;
$246 million for traumatic brain injury treatment;
$6.2 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training;
and $250 million in rural health initiatives.