Today, Congressman Bobby L. Rush expressed support for the 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. The 2014 appropriations legislation will fund Department of Veterans Affairs operations, such as veterans' claims processing, the integration of veterans' electronic health records and system with the Department of Defense, veterans medical facilities and services, housing and mandatory funding for disability compensation, post-9-11 GI bill education and vocational rehabilitation and employment training services. The appropriations legislation provides funding for hiring 94 additional VA claims processors to address and eliminate serious disability claims processing backlogs affecting veterans in Illinois and a number of other states.
"It is with great joy that I support a plan that will address the problem that we're trying to make right," said Rush. "Men and women who serve our country in uniform return home and are unable to get a resolution to a legitimate claim for a disability or for medical care that they need is unacceptable."
"I will continue my commitment to caring for the men and women who serve our country and support any plan that takes actions in addressing a speedy process for backlogs and the funding for veterans' medical services, housing, and mental health services."
The bill also includes the provision to require that a proportional amount of prosthetic research funding focus specifically on female veterans' prosthetic needs. In addition to Rush's support for the current Appropriations Act, he has been a long time advocate of veterans affairs. In the 111th Congress, Rush urged Members of the House to support H.Res. 6496 -- legislation that requires regular reports to Congress on the management of military burial grounds and specifically the Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). Rush's bill has helped the Cemetery achieve and maintain the highest standards of service and accountability.
Below is a list of highlights of funding levels and other key provisions in H.R. 2216, the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2014:
Veterans Affairs (VA) -- The legislation includes a total of $147.6 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. This funding will help provide our nation's veterans with the services and care they have earned for their dedicated service to the country.
VA Medical Services --The bill funds advanced VA medical services at $43.6 billion -- providing for approximately over 6.5 million patients to be treated in Fiscal Year 2014. These funds will be used for mental health care services; suicide prevention activities; traumatic brain injury treatment; the treatment, housing, and job training of homeless veterans; and in rural health initiatives.
DOD-VA Electronic Health Record -- The bill contains $252 million in funding to establish a single, integrated Department of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs electronic health record system. The legislation requires that a unified system be certified by the Secretary of Department of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and confirmed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), before the majority of funding for the program is released.
Disability Claims Processing Backlog -- In order to help the VA meet its goal of ending the disability compensation claims backlog by 2015, the bill provides $155 million for the paperless claims process system and $136 million for the digital scanning of health records. Additionally, funding has been provided for the hiring of 94 additional VA claims processors.
VA Mandatory Funding -- The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as veteran disability compensation programs for 4.2 million veterans and their survivors; post-9-11 GI bill education benefits for more than 764,000 veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 175,000 veterans.
Oversight -- Funds appropriated within the bill are to be designated for the development of an electronic health record system that meets the requirements of being single, joint, common, and integrated. Rigorous reporting requirements would be put into place to track the performance of each regional office on claim processing.
Advance Appropriations for Veterans Medical Programs -- The bill contains $55.6 billion in advance Fiscal Year 2015 funding for the VA -- the same level provided in the President's Budget request. This funding will provide for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities, and ensure that our veterans have continued, full access to their medical care needs.
Military Construction -- The bill provides $9.9 billion for military construction projects -- a decrease of $670 million below the enacted Fiscal Year 2013 level. These programs include large and small construction and rehabilitation projects on military bases within the U.S. and overseas.
Military Family Housing --The bill provides $1.5 billion to fund construction, operation and maintenance of military family housing for Fiscal Year 2014. This is $106 million below the enacted fiscal year 2013 level, due to savings from the privatization of family housing. The funding will ensure quality housing is continued for 1,231,044 military families whose loved ones are serving the country.
Military Medical Facilities -- The bill includes $927 million for construction and alterations for new or existing military medical facilities. These facilities support and care for 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries, including our wounded troops abroad.
Department of Defense Education Facilities --The bill includes $798 million for essential safety improvements and infrastructure work at 17 Department of Defense Education Activities (DODEA) facilities located within the U.S. and overseas. This funding will help address health, safety, and efficiency problems at these facilities for military children and families.
NATO -- The bill funds the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Security Investment Program (NSIP) at $199.7 million which is $40 million below the fiscal year 2014 budget request and $54.2 million below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.
Guard and Reserve -- The bill includes $676.3 million for construction or alteration of Guard and Reserve facilities in 25 States.
Arlington National Cemetery -- The legislation continues to provide for the much needed improvements the Arlington National Cemetery.