U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine announced the advancement of critical funding priorities for Virginia in the Fiscal Year 2015 Senate Appropriations bill for Military Construction, Veteran Affairs, and Related Agencies that was voted out of committee yesterday. Last month, Warner and Kaine weighed in with Appropriations Committee Chairwoman U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski and Vice Chairman U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, as well as the leadership of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, requesting support for projects that are vital to the nation’s defense and programs that provide care for veterans and their families.
“After many months of negotiations with the appropriations Committee, Arlington County and Pentagon officials I am pleased that we agreed on a path forward that will greatly increase the amount of burial space at Arlington Cemetery while also requiring the Pentagon to agree to a Memorandum of Agreement and a Master Plan for redevelopment of the area for Arlington County,” said Warner. “I deeply appreciate the Committee adopting our proposal to have the Va expand its partnership with the Veteran’s Legal Clinics, something William & Mary and I have worked on for several years. I am happy to report that we have dramatically expanded the amount of legal clinics to 15 nation-wide and the Committee’s assistance will allow us to accelerate this expansion even future.”
“I’m pleased the Appropriations Committee showed such strong support for programs to keep our servicemembers and veterans safe, secure, and operational,” said Kaine. “I’m particularly pleased the bill prioritizes the well-being of our veterans through increased funding to eliminate the disability claims backlog and improve health care, as well as through support for programs – like William & Mary Law School’s Puller Clinic – that help veterans efficiently navigate the Va benefits process. These provisions will have a major impact in Virginia and across the nation’s entire defense community, and I will continue to fight for them as the full Senate considers this bill.”
The following list includes many of the provisions Warner and Kaine advocated for on behalf of Virginia that were included in the Appropriations bill:
- Military Construction Projects: Includes $23.7 million for Military Construction programs at Joint Base Langley-Eustis and Fort Lee $115.9 million for Military Construction programs for Navy and Marine Corps projects at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren, Naval Station Norfolk, Marine Corps Base Quantico, Portsmouth, and Yorktown, $39.58 million for Military Construction programs at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, including $11.2 million for the Special Operations Force Human Performance Center in Dam Neck, and $105.7 million for Military Construction Defense-wide programs at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Craney Island, Defense Distribution Depot Richmond, Fort Belvoir, and the Pentagon.
- Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): Includes $158.6 billion to support the VA’s goal to expand access to health care and other benefits, eliminate the disability claims backlog, and end homelessness among Veterans. Includes $59.4 billion for medical care, including programs to expand access in telehealth, women-specific medical care, mental health services, and activation of new health care facilities. The bill also includes $58.7 billion in fiscal year 2016 advance appropriations for veterans medical services. Includes full funding to address the Va claims backlog and the Veterans Claims Intake Program, as well as the electronic claims processing system, the Veterans Benefits Management System. The bill provides an additional $5 million above the budget request for the Office of Inspector General to conduct a nationwide investigation throughout all Veterans Integrated Service Networks of scheduling practices and procedures. The bill also prohibits the payment of performance bonuses to Veterans Health Administration medical directors, assistant medical directors and Senior Executive System employees until the investigation is completed and reforms have been instituted.
- Arlington National Cemetery: The Committee endorsed a land transfer between the Department of Defense and Arlington County which would increase available land for burial space at Arlington Cemetery and also allow Arlington County to proceed with important development plans by re-aligning Columbia Pike and adjacent roads. The Committee urges the Secretary of the Army to provide the Committees on Appropriations of both Houses of Congress with an amended Master Plan and Navy Annex Area Development Plan, as well as the final Memorandum of Understanding between the Army and Arlington County, detailing how any land conveyed to the Cemetery will be utilized for internments and other Cemetery needs.
- Law School Programs Helping Veterans: Encourages the Veterans Affairs Secretary to expand the Veterans’ Legal Clinic model, which was initiated at William & Mary Puller Clinic, and last summer the Va accepted the Puller Clinic into the VA’s fully developed community of practice. These programs assist veterans with their benefits claims and leverage significant volunteer, private sector, and other non-federal resources that combine to produce better outcomes for veterans and significant cost-savings and efficiencies for the Va.
The FY2015 Military Construction, Veteran Affairs, and Related Agencies appropriations bill will now advance to the full Senate for consideration.