(Washington, D.C.) Today the House of Representatives passed Representative Charlie Dent’s (PA-15) Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 4974) with a bipartisan vote of 295 to 129. Representative Dent, Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, released the following statement following the bill’s passage:
“I’m proud of this measure that was written and advanced in a bipartisan manner to provide for our veterans, our service members, and our military families. I am humbled by the sacrifices that our brave men and women endure in defense of our great nation, and am honored to have the privilege of leading this vital bill to ensure that they have the resources they need both in uniform and upon their transition to veteran status.
This bill’s investment in our veterans and armed services of $81.6 billion, $1.2 billion over last year’s level, is unprecedented. This funding and the bill’s policies will address important issues to help veterans in every part of the country and our troops around the world. It is the product of feedback received from extensive personal conversations with our veterans and veteran advocates, service members and their families, and health care providers both within and outside of the VA over the past year.”
Highlights of the bill include:
- Robust funding for VA medical services that will allow 7 million patients to be cared for by the VA;
- $1.5 billion for Hepatitis C treatments that will save, extend, and improve the quality of life for over 50,000 veterans;
- An emphasis on mental health care, suicide prevention, services to aid and take care of our homeless veterans, traumatic brain injury treatments, improvements to the Suicide Hotline, and certification of mental health therapists to expand access for veterans who need their care;
- Funding and new directives that will lead to further reductions in the disability claims backlog, including a $118 million increase for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and requisite resources to improve services and provide more staff to tackle the backlog of claims appeals;
- Investments and requirements to modernize the VA’s electronic health record system, move closer to interoperability, and bring the VA’s IT infrastructure into the 21st century where it belongs;
- Extensive oversight provisions – such as a prohibition on bonuses for the VA’s senior executives, limits on VA construction authorities, and an increase in funding for the VA Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) – to address the horrendous mismanagement and corrosive culture we have seen at VA facilities across the country and bring further accountability into the VA and assist the veterans they are responsible for serving;
- An increase of $250 million above the President’s request for military construction that will allow for full funding of family housing for nearly 1.4 million military families, the military health facilities that treat 9.8 million troops and families, and updates to aging infrastructure on our bases;
- Protections for our local service members and National Guard and Reserve members through the addition of a security perimeter at Fort Indiantown Gap;
- Resources to keep our troops stationed overseas ready, safe, and vigilant in war or peace.
“While these items are just a few of the items in this essential legislation,” Rep. Dent continued, “it demonstrates the level of commitment we have to our veterans and their families. Congress has a distinct responsibility to provide for our service members, veterans, and their loved ones in peace and in war, and this legislation helps fulfill that promise.
I applaud the bipartisan passage of this vital legislation, and look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to stand up for those who tirelessly serve on behalf of our communities.” (See Representative Dent's opening remarks on the bill here.)