MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS AFFAIRS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2009 -- (House of Representatives - July 31, 2008)
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Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Mr. Chairman, I often come to the floor, and I often preface my remarks when I have an amendment, saying that I come to the floor tonight with a commonsense amendment. Quite candidly, I think that is more than apropos when I speak about what I'm here to speak about tonight.
My amendment simply does this: It seeks to increase the funds for State veterans homes, and it does so in the amount of $18 million. From where does it get the money? Well, it does so by reducing the administrative expenses by a mere less than 1 percent, and that's a critical number, less than 1 percent. We believe that within that over billion dollar line that there is more than enough aptitude for going in and for finding less than 1 percent of additional funds that we could take out and put to a worthy cause such as toward our State veterans homes.
Today, there are 126 State extended care facilities. They're extended across all 50 States and in Puerto Rico as well. These veterans homes care for nearly 30,000 of our Nation's heroes. The number of veterans requiring care will continue to increase as servicemembers return from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Currently, there is a backlog, a huge, extensive backlog of projects waiting for funds. Now, many of these projects on this waiting list are critical for providing veterans with a healthy and secure environment. In fact, of the almost 200 projects waiting for Federal funds, nearly half of them are classified as priority 1.
I believe it is our duty to see that these facilities are able to provide the highest quality of care for the lives of those who have made the sacrifices for our Nation. After all, you can't really just call these things ``institutions'' anymore. These really are the homes where our veterans will spend out the days of their lives.
The staffs of these homes work hard to honor our veterans and to ensure that their last years are spent in comfort. I've had the pleasure now of working with folks back at the Paramus Veterans Home in my district in Bergen County, New Jersey. I've frequently visited with them and with their relatives who would come and visit, and local veterans organizations around the area would also come in, and they would work with them. These service organizations have worked hard to raise matching funds for these types of essential projects at these facilities. Likewise, they do across the Nation and, I'm sure, in each of your districts as well.
I would also like to make one other point. That is, in the Senate bill, in the Senate MilCon-VA Appropriations bill, they designate $1.779 billion for general operating expenses while the House version designates $1.801 billion. So we appropriate a little bit more than the Senate does. So that 1 percent cut from the appropriations line for the general operating expenses would still leave more money in the final version of the bill than the Senate version currently has. We know we have different numbers here so that, when it gets to conference, those numbers have to come into an equilibrium of some sense. We're up here. The Senate is over here. This will bring us closer to that equilibrium.
In addition, our colleagues over on the Senate Appropriations Committee have approved $250 million for the State veterans homes while the House budget only puts in $165 million. So my amendment would simply reduce this discrepancy by increasing the funding for State veterans homes by $18 million. In other words, we're in the House at $165 million. The Senate is at $250 million. We're just trying to bring the House number up a little bit closer to where the Senate is, which probably will happen once it gets into conference committee, because those numbers have to work together.
So I'm just suggesting that a tiny, less than 1 percent cut in the administrative operations would allow us to provide our country's heroes with a better quality of life, and I think that's what we owe all of them. I hope that we can find a way to work together across the aisle to honor our vets and to make sure that they receive excellent care in all of their facilities.
I yield back the balance of my time.
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Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
It appears that we're on the same page on this, but let me just make this one suggestion:
While the 250 positions are out there and while there's a waiting list out there for that group, there's also, as I've suggested, around 200-some-odd projects or more, actually, over half of which are on a critical category 1 list. So we have two important lists that have long waiting lists that have to be addressed.
My suggestion is that, if this were to pass and if we were to reduce the funds by $18 million, there's nothing in the amendment that says to the administration take the $18 million out of this over $1.4 billion line and take it from the 250. You and I would have to agree that they must be able to find some other area to take it from than these 250.
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