WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) today discussed how the recently passed $1.014 trillion funding package avoids a government shutdown and advances several priorities related to military operations and veterans throughout Maryland.
“We have an obligation to support the men and women of our Armed Forces with the resources they need while on active duty, in the reserves and when they return to civilian life. Passing a fiscally responsibly budget that invests in America and sets priorities for our nation helps make that possible,” said Senator Cardin. “While far from perfect, on balance the omnibus spending package passed by Congress provides greater stability to the Department of Defense, Veterans Administration, and other federal agencies, as well as the businesses and workers who support their mission. It avoids a reckless government shutdown and advances several priority programs, including many that will help restore the trust that was broken with our military veterans and expedite their access to quality medical care and benefits earned during their service to our nation.”
Following are some of the important provisions in the omnibus spending bill for military operations and veterans.
– 1 percent pay increase for military and civilian personnel
– Almost $500 billion in Department of Defense base funding
– Approximately $400 million in Maryland military construction projects requested by Senator Cardin, including:
Air Force – Ft. Meade – CYBERCOM Increment 2 – $166 million
United States Naval Academy – Annapolis – Cyber Center – $120.1 million
National Security Agency – Ft. Meade – $54.2 million
Defense Logistics Agency – Joint Base Andrews – $18.3 million
Navy – Indian Head – Advanced Energetics Lab – $15.3 million
Army National Guard – Havre De Grace – $12.4 million
Navy – Patuxent River – Atlantic Test Range Facility – $9.9 million
– Defense Technology Transfer Partnerships – $2.5 million increase for public-private technology ventures between the Department of Defense research and developmental labs and regional technology commercialization organizations
– Defense Medical Research – increased funding for defense research; included language submitted by Senator Cardin to support wounded warriors and research for reconstructive transplantation and epilepsy
– $31 million increase for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)
– $20 million to each force for alternative energy research to combat climate change
– $10 million for defense-related research programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
– $190 million to keep commissaries open
– $7.0 billion for long term care for the nation’s aging veterans and severely wounded combat veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
– $4.6 billion to provide health care for women veterans, including $403 million in gender-specific health care to meet the unique needs of female veterans
– $4.2 billion to meet the health care needs of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan ($500 million more than the current estimate for FY14)
– $589 million for research in a number of areas, including mental health, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, burn injury, polytrauma injuries and sensory loss
– $99.3 million for Board of Veterans Appeals ($11 million more than FY14 level), increasing manpower resources to expedite the appeals process
– $250 million to build on the Rural Health Initiative to close gaps in VA service in rural and remote areas
– $75 million for HUD-VASH to provide housing for 10,000 additional veterans experiencing homelessness
– Advance funding for VA mandatory veterans benefit accounts required to be carried in next year’s bill for FY2017, including Compensation and Pensions, Readjustment Benefits, and Insurance and Indemnities accounts. This comes in addition to advance funding for VA medical care accounts, which were provided in FY2010.
– Requirement included to shield veterans from the uncertainty of timely enactment of annual appropriations bills and the potential of a future government shutdown, which could delay payments and impose unwarranted hardship on veterans who depend on these benefits.
VA Patient Scheduling
– Includes the foundation for continued patient scheduling reforms and provides $5 million more than the budget request for the Office of Inspector General to continue a nationwide investigation throughout all Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISN) of scheduling practices and procedures.
Veterans’ Claims Processing
– $2.5 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)
– $40 million more than requested to expedite claims processing by hiring additional claims and support personnel at regional offices; expanding the Veterans Claims Intake Program records scanning system; and implementing the centralized mail initiative
– $10 million of the increased funding dedicated to hardware upgrades at regional offices to ensure that the VA rapidly transforms from a paper-based claims processing system to one that uses modern technology that supports the deployment of the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) nationwide
– VA required to work with the congressionally chartered National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) to ensure that VA develops and implements business practices to prevent the recurrence of a backlog in claims processing
– Appeals process streamlined by requiring the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide a strategic plan that details how the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) plans to improve the timeliness and accuracy of appellate decisions
– $5 million more than the request for the BVA to provide additional manpower to speed up the appeals process in an effort to avert trading a claims backlog for an appeals backlog
– Requires and funds the development of an inter-operable joint VA-Defense Department Electronic Health Record (EHR) system