Update June 27, 2016: This bill was co-opted through the amendment process from its original form to serve as the legislative vehicle for funding the fight against the Zika virus.
Originally, this bill provided for infrastructure, before it was changed to provide funding for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs and for military construction and housing projects. However, after the bill was introduced to the House, an amendment was added that re-allocated $1.1 billion in funding for fighting the Ebola virus to preventing, preparing, and responding to the Zika virus.
Additionally, while the original contents of the bill haven’t been changed, the amendment also added provisions to the bill that aren’t Zika related. Specifically, the new provisions:
Restrict the display of Confederate flags in VA cemeteries;
Allow VA providers to complete forms to permit a veteran's participation in a medical marijuana program, and
Prohibit the use of funds for closing U.S. military bases.
The original contents of the bill would authorize $81.6 billion in funding for military construction projects, training and equipping members of the military, housing their families, and funding veterans’ benefits and programs through the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA). That represents an increase of over $1.8 billion from the 2016 fiscal year, although it is $1.2 billion less than the president’s request.
A total of $7.9 billion would be made available for military construction projects, which is a decrease of $305 million from fiscal year 2016 but $250 more than the president’s request. This funding would go to large and small construction or renovation projects at military bases within the U.S. and around the world. $172 million of this funding would be focused on Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and European Reassurance Initiative projects involving overseas bases.
Military Family Housing
$1.3 billion would fund the construction, operation, and maintenance of military family housing for fiscal year 2017, which meets the president’s budget request but is $84 million less than the previous year. There are currently 1,388,028 military families that are served by this program.
Military Medical Facilities
This section provides $304 million for the construction and alteration for new or existing military medical facilities, matching the president’s budget request but decreasing funding by $303 million from the prior year. A total of 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries are or can be served by these facilities.
NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP)
The NSIP would see its funding rise by $43 million from fiscal year 2016 to a level of $178 million, matching the president’s budget request. This program funds infrastructure needed for wartime and crisis activities, peacekeeping support, deterrence operations, and training for NATO as it confronts challenges from Russia, the Middle East, and North Africa.
The closure of Guantanamo Bay Naval Station would be prohibited by this legislation, in addition to blocking funding for any facility within the U.S. that would house detainees.
$673 million would go to construction at National Guard and Reserve facilities in 21 states, an increase of $122 million from the 2016 fiscal year. Another $246 million would go to safety improvements and infrastructure work at four Dept. of Defense (DOD) Education Activities facilities located in the U.S. and overseas.
VETERANS AFFAIRS (VA)
This bill authorizes a total of $176.1 billion in both discretionary and mandatory spending at the VA, which is $13.4 billion more than fiscal year 2016. Of that total, this bill breaks down what the $73.5 billion in discretionary spending goes toward, which represents a $2.1 billion increase over the previous year. Part of that increase would be $850 million aimed at focusing on treating hepatitis C, long-term care for veterans, support services for veterans’ caregivers, and to fighting veteran homelessness.
To prevent further mismanagement or wasteful spending at the VA and improve the care received by veterans, several oversight and accountability provisions are included in this bill. These include limiting transfers between construction projects, reports about bid savings, limiting changes to the scope of projects, and preventing certain spending without notifying Congress. Additionally, all Senior Executive Service Managers at the VA would be prohibited from receiving bonuses.
VA Medical Services
$52.5 billion would go to VA medical services which would allow for about 7 million patients to be treated in fiscal year 2017. Some of this total would be spent in the following ways:
- $7.8 billion for mental healthcare services;
- $7.2 billion for homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training;
- $284 million for traumatic brain injury treatment;
- $250 million in rural veterans health programs;
- $164 million in suicide prevention activities.
An additional $260 million would be made available for the modernization of the VA electronic health record system.
Disability Claims Processing Backlog
To address the backlog of processing disability claims, this legislation would provide for the following to be spent:
- $180 million for the paperless claims processing system;
- $153 million for health records to be digitally scanned;
- $27 million for centralized mail.
- $156 million would be provided to the Board of Veterans Appeals — a $46 million increase — to support the work of 242 new staff members dealing with claims appeals.
This bill would match the president’s request of $900 million for major and minor VA construction projects.
VA Mandatory FundingThe $102.6 billion in mandatory spending authorized by this bill would go to a number of different areas, including:
- Veterans disability compensation to 4.8 million veterans and their survivors;
- Education benefits through the GI Bill for nearly 1.1 million veterans;
- Vocational rehabilitation and employment training for over 140,000 veterans.
To ensure that veterans continue to have access to medical services, support, and facilities for their healthcare needs, this bill makes $66.4 billion in advance appropriations for fiscal year 2018, matching the president’s budget request. It also includes $103.9 billion in advance funding for VA mandatory benefits, which also matches the President’s request. It should be noted that of this year’s total funding, $63.3 billion was provided through advance appropriations.