Four of Alaska's major military construction projects are being fully funded through the 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill, further indication of Alaska's pivotal role in the nation's defense from emerging Asia-Pacific threats. Senator Lisa Murkowski was also able to add a provision requiring the United States Army to share the lessons learned from the Stuart Creek Fire investigation she initiated and ensure that Alaska's veterans get improved medical care as close to home as possible.
The bill also restores full military retirement benefits to working age medically retired veterans. The bipartisan budget deal to avoid future federal government shutdowns included a one-percent reduction in the cost of living adjustment for military retirees until they turn 62 when full retirement benefits would be received. Senator Murkowski committed to repealing these provisions, and though the language in the Omnibus is not a complete fix, it represents a step in the right direction.
"The Pentagon is acknowledging that Alaska may be the most strategic position on the map for our nation's defense from emerging dangers -- with this funding bill stating it loud and clear," said Murkowski. "I'm also heartened that the U.S. Army is reconsidering how it conducts firing drills in Alaska in the dry summer months, and that the Veterans Administration will continue its commitment to deliver healthcare to Alaska's veterans, even when the state's rural geography poses challenges. Cuts to our veterans retirement benefits should not have been included in the budget deal, and I remain committed to restoring benefits to early military retirees nationwide."
Senator Murkowski has been an outspoken advocate of Alaska's tactical military position as the Pentagon focuses on the Pacific Rim, and the 2014 funding bill directs over $200 million to major projects in Alaska.
Fort Wainwright ($103M)
Aviation Battalion Complex - 45M
Aviation Storage Hangar - 58M
Clear Air Force Station (17.2M)
Ballistic Missile Defense System Upgrade Early Warning Radar
Fort Greely ($82M)
Replace Mechanical-Electrical Building, Missile Field #1
Answers for Alaska's Rural Veterans Soon
Care Close to Home -- Senator Murkowski has made access to care a cornerstone of her commitment to Alaska's veteran community, and remains concerned that extensive travel requirements create unnecessary burdens for those who've served. Today's bill requires the VA to provide data on travel requirements for Alaskans who have had to fly within the state of Alaska or outside for medical care -- and whether that care could have been provided nearby by local doctors, community health centers or tribal health facilities. This information is due by February 1st, but its release may be delayed.
VA/I.H.S. Agreement -- Senator Murkowski has long advocated for a uniquely-Alaskan policy solution to the geographic challenges facing rural veterans: a partnership with the Indian Health Service to provide rural care at Native Health Care centers. This bill includes a requirement that the Veterans Administration detailing the progress being made in this partnership by February 1st, as well as challenges and difficulties that need to be addressed.
"Pop-up" Veteran Affairs Centers and "Distance Counseling" -- The bill requires the VA to consider the benefits of temporary "pop up' counseling centers to send VA professionals to gatherings around the state, such as AFN or other events attracting large numbers of veterans. The MilCon/VA bill also requires the VA to consider making use of Internet video conference programs like Skype and Facetime to extend vet center services into rural Alaska. These decisions are due by February 1st.
Stuart Creek Fire
Safer Artillery Training in Dry Conditions -- At Senator Murkowski's request, the United States Army conducted a thorough interview of last summer's Stuart Creek Fire -- finding the approval process for artillery fire drills needed to be reformed. The 2014 spending bill requires that the U.S. Army report to Congress how its procedures have been changed by April 15th.