MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2006 -- (Senate - September 22, 2005)
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I appreciate the expeditious way our leader and the chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies has brought this important appropriations bill to the floor. It is, in my opinion, without question, that we ought to try to deal with all of our appropriations bills this year, complete them individually, complete the total process. We have seen the difficult and confusing process of omnibus bills over the last couple of years. Clearly, this Congress ought to demonstrate to the American taxpayer that we can conduct our budgeting and our appropriating process in a reasonable and responsible fashion to move ahead. The chairman of the subcommittee is urging us to come to the floor if we have amendments and address them in a timely fashion, to see if we can complete work on this appropriations bill today. I appreciate that.
As chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, I have worked closely with the chairman and the ranking member of this subcommittee to assure that we have adequately funded the Veterans' Administration. As our colleagues know--and certainly observers have known--we have had difficulty in effective and responsible projections of costs. As we have seen a ramping up of services to America's veterans and as the quality of veterans health care improves, there has been a substantially greater number of veterans who have chosen to use the veterans health care system to provide for their needs. As a result, H.R. 2528 provides $70.71 billion to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the highest amount of appropriated dollars in the history of the Department. Of this funding, $34.09 billion is discretionary funding, meaning spent across the spectrum of veterans services, which is $1.26 billion above the administration's request, and $23.32 billion is for medical services which is $1.3 billion above the administration's request. Not only did the administration come in at a higher number, but as the needs changed, Congress came in at an even higher number. That speaks clearly to our commitment to America's veterans, as we have always responded to their needs in what we believe to be a direct, straightforward way.
The overall budget of Veterans Affairs has risen $22.5 billion or 47.5 percent, with average increases for all veterans at nearly 7.8 percent every year. I am talking about since the Bush administration took office. These increases more than double the growth of the entire Federal budget, which has increased by 4.14 percent. I am talking about the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Anyone who says we are not meeting the obligation to America's veterans with unprecedented increases and increases that are substantially more than in other areas of our Federal budget simply hasn't looked at the numbers and the level of health care being provided. Health care funding alone has grown by $10 billion, or 52 percent, during the Bush administration. With that attention and response from the Congress and this President, VA has become a modern health care system, described in recent national publications as the best health care anywhere. Of course, that is exactly why we now see more veterans seeking veterans health care; it is not the health care of last resort. It is the health care of first choice. It is a modern, quality delivery system all of us can be proud of, not only because we are providing it but because it serves America's heroes in a way that we feel an appropriate obligation to do so.
I thank Chairman HUTCHISON for the work she has done, and the ranking member, Senator Feinstein, for their cooperative effort with us as we have worked our way through this difficult funding process for veterans. The job is well done. The services and the resources provided are responsible and adequate for the serving of America's veterans.
I am privileged to serve on this subcommittee, to work with the chairman and ranking member to accomplish this task. I also have the unique responsibility of serving as chairman of the authorizing Committee on Veterans' Affairs. I am pleased and proud of the work we are doing, not only for America's veterans today but for those who are soon to become America's veterans. The brave men and women serving us in the defense of our freedom in the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan are coming back. Many of them will be requiring significant services as they have been injured and found themselves in harm's way. Of course, that is our responsibility. We will not back from it in any way. America's veterans or America's serving men and women soon to be veterans need to know that this Congress has and will continue to address their needs in a responsible fashion, to serve them as we appropriately must, sometimes having to draw priorities but recognizing that those needing the care are going to get the care, the kind that is appropriate and responsible for America's heroes, America's veterans, and men and women currently serving in the armed services.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.