Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, this Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for 2010 rightfully prioritizes the health care of the Nation's wounded warriors by substantially increasing discretionary health care spending for fiscal year 2010 . This bill includes a $45.1 billion appropriation for the Veterans Health Administration that will enable VA to treat an estimated 6.1 million patients in 2010 , including $533 million to support the enrollment of 266,000 nondisabled, modest-income veterans . This funding furthers the Administration's goal of enrolling more than 500,000 of these previously ineligible veterans by 2013. In addition to enrolling more veterans of modest means, this bill provides for $440 million to improve the health of rural veterans .
The 2010 Milcon-VA Appropriations Act includes a total of $34.7 billion for medical services, $4.8 billion for construction , and $580 million for medical and prosthetic research. Total discretionary spending will be increased over $3.9 billion above the fiscal year 2009 enacted level.
I am delighted that for the first time VA will receive advance appropriations --an additional $48.2 billion in for fiscal year 2011--for three VA medical care accounts. This coincides with the landmark legislation, Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, which was signed into law as Public Law 111-81 by the President on October 22, 2009. Funding VA health care in advance will go a long way toward rectifying the chronic underfunding of VA health care, which has left so many of the Nation's veterans with unmet health care needs.
This bill fully funds VA's research programs. The $580 million appropriation for VHA research represents a $70 million increase from the fiscal year 2009 enacted level and an amount equal to the budget request. Through these funds, VA will be able to pursue targeted research goals like developing better prosthetic devices for the younger veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. VA can continue research into conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and gulf war Illness. In addition, VA can continue to recruit and retain quality health care providers, as over three-quarters of VA's researchers also provide direct patient care.
I am pleased that this bill contains an amendment I offered that will extend VA's authority to operate the Manila VA Regional Office.
Earlier this year, over 60 years after the end of the World War II, surviving Filipino World War II veterans finally received a measure of compensation for their service in the form of a one-time lump sum payment. These past months have demonstrated that dispersing these payments has been an enormous challenge, with multiple steps to authenticate the service of these World War II veterans .
Unfortunately, VA's authority to operate the Manila VA Regional Office will expire on December 31, 2009. There remains much work to be done in order to continue processing claims and ensuring these veterans are awarded benefits they have waited six long decades to receive. For this and other purposes, the operational authority of the Manila Regional Office must be extended.
The Manila Regional Office currently administers compensation, pension, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and education benefits to over 18,000 beneficiaries. In addition, VA also administers Social Security in the Philippines. Keeping this facility fully functioning is necessary for these deserving individuals to receive critical veterans' benefits as well to carry out an integral part of the U.S. mission to the Republic of the Philippines.
I extend my deepest thanks to the staff of the Manila Regional Office who have continued to demonstrate unwavering dedication to their duty to assist Filipino World War II veterans and indeed all veterans who apply for benefits from VA.
Finally, I mention Senator Burr's amendment, included in the underlying bill, that would directly support efforts to address homelessness among our Nation's veterans . His provisions, of which I am a cosponsor, are offset by funds currently allocated for administrative costs for an existing homeless program that is essentially defunct--the Multifamily Transitional Housing Loan Guarantee Program.
I will be working with Senator Burr in the future to ensure that the unspent money for this program--$43 million--can be used for more active homeless programs, such as the Grant and Per Diem Program.
In closing, I thank Senators Johnson and Hutchison, the chair and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Senators Inouye and Cochran, the chair and ranking member of the Appropriations Committee; and their staffs for their hard work in putting this bill together and for working to incorporate important veterans -related provisions in the package. Additionally, I thank the Members who filed VA-related amendments who worked with the Veterans' Affairs Committee to come to agreement on issues that could be addressed in this bill.
November 17, 2009