Today Congressman Kevin Cramer voted in favor of a Fiscal Year 2014 funding bill to provide $30.2 million for military construction in North Dakota, and reduce the backlog at the Veterans Administration (VA). The Fiscal Year 2014 Appropriations Bill for Military Construction and Veterans Affairs also increases medical treatment funding for the 6.5 million patients served by the VA system, adds rigorous oversight on expenditures to ensure their proper use and timely disbursement, and prevents massive delays in disability claims from occurring again in the future. It passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 421 to 4.
Three military construction projects at Minot Air Force Base will receive funding totaling $30.2 million under the bill. $15,530,000 is provided for the B-52 ADAL Aircraft Maintenance Unit, $8,300,000 for B-52 Munitions Storage Igloos, and $6,400,00 for replacing fuel pipeline.
The bill also combats the ongoing backlog of disability claims paperwork at the Veterans Administration, including $155 million for a paperless claims processing system, and $136 million for the digital scanning of health records. The average wait time for first time disability claimants is now 316 to 327 days.
Cramer signed a letter last week to President Barack Obama demanding immediate action on the backlog.
"After a decade of war, and despite the VA's efforts to modernize, more than 600,000 veterans are still stuck in the VA's disability claims backlog," the letter stated. "In the worst cases, veterans have waited and continue to wait 800 days, 900 days, and even more than 1000 days for a disability claims decision from the VA. Solving this problem is critical for veterans of all generations."
The bill passed today also addresses another longstanding issue, providing $344 million to jumpstart a coordinated health record system between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the VA. The two agencies currently operate on separate, incompatible electronic health record systems. For more than a decade, attempts to merge the two systems have achieved no results, and DoD remains unable to seamlessly transfer the health records of newly retired or discharged service members to the VA. The lack of transferability has contributed significantly to the backlog at the VA. The bill spurs progress by suspending the majority of funding for the unified system until it is certified by the DoD, the VA, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Other provisions in the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill include $43.6 billion in funding for medical treatment including traumatic brain injury treatment, suicide prevention, mental health care, and rural health initiatives; and new strict reporting requirements for each regional VA office handling claims.
"This bill not only strengthens programs for our military veterans by ensuring adequate funding is available, it also puts those funds to better use by holding the responsible agencies to the task of showing real progress in reducing backlogs and bettering services," said Cramer.