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14 April 2016 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Thursday, April 14, 2016

★★★

 POSTURE HEARING SEASON WINDS DOWN.  MARKUP BEGINS.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas and Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash., officially started the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act process by introducing H.R. 4909, which will serve as the placeholder bill ahead of the markup that begins next week. 

With just a week away, there is no budget resolution and no relief from the defense spending caps that resulted in a more than $3 billion reduction in the Army budget.

Without relief, the House Armed Services Committee will have subcommittees start piecing together the legislation with limits on how much money they can spend and what changes they can make.

The Army’s expected topline is $148 billion including $25 billion in overseas contingency funding.  At that level of funding, it is unlikely the committee would be able to either slow or stop the continued reduction in Regular Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserve troop strength and also unlikely they’ll be able to make much headway giving the Army any of the $7 billion in unfunded programs on a wish list provided to the committee last month.

The Senate is scheduled to markup their version of the defense policy bill about two weeks after the House. 

SENATE PANEL ADVANCES MILITARY CONSTRUCTION LEGISLATION 

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) has advanced a draft spending bill that would provide $83 billion in discretionary funding, a raise of $3.1 billion over fiscal 2016 enacted levels.

The bill provides $7.93 billion for Military Construction which is $241 million below the fiscal 2016 level and $486 million above the president’s request. 

·       Military Family Housing – $1.3 billion for construction, operation and maintenance of military family housing. 

·       Military Medical Facilities – $350 million for construction or alteration of military medical facilities. 

·       Department of Defense (DoD) Education Facilities – $272 million for essential safety improvements and infrastructure work at four military school facilities located within the United States and overseas.

·       Guard and Reserve – $673 million to support the construction needs of the Guard and Reserve, an increase of $122 million above the fiscal 2016 enacted level.

·       NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP) – $178 million for infrastructure necessary for wartime, crisis, and peace support and deterrence operations, and training requirements.  The funds will support responses to the challenges posed by Russia and to the risks and threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.

The legislation includes a record level of $177.4 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), an increase of $14.7 billion above the fiscal 2016 level. 

Discretionary funding for VA programs totals $74.9 billion.  As requested by the administration, the bill makes an additional $1.6 billion in medical care funding available to improve patient access to care, and to support additional health care services including hepatitis C treatments, veterans’ caregiver services, and homeless veterans’ assistance.

·       VA Medical Care – $65 billion to support treatment and care for approximately 9.2 million patients in fiscal 2017.  The bill provides:  $7.2 billion for the new Medical Community Care account to provide non-VA care; $1.5 billion for the treatment of Hepatitis C; $675 million for medical and prosthetic research; $535 million for health care specifically for women veterans; $5.7 billion to care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans; $284 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; $735 million for the Caregivers Program; and $250 million for rural health initiatives.

·       VA Electronic Health Record – $260 million for continued modernization of the VA electronic health record system.  The bill includes language restricting the use of this funding until the VA demonstrates functional improvements in the interoperability of a system to seamlessly exchange veterans’ medical data among the VA, DOD and the private sector.

·       Disability Claims Processing – $180 million for the paperless claims processing system, $143 million for digital scanning of health records, and $27 million for centralized mail.  To prompt greater national and regional progress in reducing VA claims backlogs, the bill maintains strict reporting requirements.

·       Construction – Nearly $900 million for major and minor construction associated with VA hospital replacement, continued correction of seismic deficiencies, scores of projects to improve access to VA health care, and the VA’s National Cemeteries.

·       VA Mandatory Funding – $103.9 billion in advance fiscal 2018 funding for veterans’ mandatory benefits.  The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: veteran disability compensation programs for 4.4 million veterans and 405,000 survivors; education benefits for nearly 1.1 million veterans; guaranteed home loans for 429,000 veterans; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 141,000 veterans.

·       Advance Appropriations – $66.4 billion in advance fiscal 2018 funding for veterans’ medical programs, the same level as the president’s request, to support VA medical services, medical community care, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities.

The legislation also includes $241.1 million in funding for:  American Battle Monuments Commission – $75.1 million; US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims – $30.9 million; Arlington National Cemetery – $70.8 million; and Armed Forces Retirement Home – $64.3 million.

What’s next:  The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to markup the legislation today.