WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) was pleased to vote in favor of H.R. 2638, the Consolidated Security Disaster continuing resolution which includes the FY2009 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Defense, and Homeland Security Appropriations bill. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 78-12 and now goes to the President.
If signed by the President, the bill would also provide a $4.5 billion dollar increase for veterans' programs. This increase is $2.8 billion above the President's VA budget request for Fiscal Year 2009.
"With this appropriation for VA, we accomplish what my colleagues and I continue to advocate for: that care and benefits for veterans be funded as a cost of war," said Akaka.
While most federal funding would be held at its current level until March 6, 2009, veterans' programs were included as a national defense issue to be funded above and beyond current levels.
The increase provided by the Appropriations Committee was similar to the level recommended by Chairman Akaka and the Majority Members of the Veterans' Affairs Committee in their views and estimates letter to the Budget Committee, which included a recommended $4.1 billion increase for VA medical care. Akaka has used his position as Committee Chairman to advocate consistently for strong funding for VA, including in his response to the President's proposed budget during the Committee's budget hearing, and continued advocacy alongside Democratic leadership leading up to the increase proposed in this year's Budget Resolution.
The funding increase for veterans' programs includes the following:
Medical Services: $2.9 billion above 2008 ($30.97 billion total), including: $375 million in new funds to start enrolling middle-income or "Priority 8" veterans; $3.8 billion total for mental health care and $584 million for substance abuse programs; $250 million for new generation prosthetics, and a rejection of the President's proposal to cut $8 million in assistance to homeless veterans.
Health Care Facilities: $769 million above 2008 ($5 billion total) to address identified shortfalls and allow facilities to provide high quality health care. (VA currently estimates a $5 billion maintenance backlog.)
Medical and Prosthetic Research: $30 million above 2008 ($510 million total), rejecting the President's proposed cuts to trauma and mental health research.
Combating the Claims Backlog: $197 million above 2008 ($1.8 billion total) for general operating expenses, to hire roughly 2,000 additional claims processors to reduce the backlog of veterans' claims.
Information Technology: $229 million above 2008 ($2.5 billion total), including $35 million for a fund to address critical unplanned IT needs at medical facilities.
Oversight: $7.3 million above 2008 ($87.8 million total) for the Office of Inspector General, rejecting the President's proposed cuts to internal VA oversight.
Senator Akaka is Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee and Chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.