Isakson: Veterans Prioritized in 2018 Funding Bill

Applauds funding increase for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, urges Congress to act on additional reforms to improve efficiency of community care programs

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today applauded the inclusion of $81.5 billion for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – an increase of $7.1 billion from 2017 – in the fiscal year 2018 funding measure passed by the Senate by a 65-32 vote and now signed into law by the president. The bipartisan measure also prioritizes funding for a number of critical programs benefitting veterans including medical care, mental health and opioid treatment and prevention, ongoing electronic health record integration and burial benefits.

Earlier in the week Isakson, along with U.S. Senator Jon Tester, D-Mont., and U.S. Representative Phil Roe, R-Tenn., also appealed to House and Senate leaders crafting the bill to include an additional provision to reform the VA’s community care programs. Unfortunately, that move was blocked by House Democrats.

“As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I’m extremely pleased to see Congress showing its commitment to our veterans,” said Isakson. “This legislation backs up the actions we have taken to improve the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs with needed funding to provide the best care available. While I’m disappointed that we were not able to include important reforms to the veterans’ healthcare system and expand assistance to veterans’ family caregivers, I’m committed to continue working to advance that bipartisan legislation until it reaches the president’s desk. Our veterans deserve nothing less.”

The funding bill provides $81.5 billion in discretionary spending for VA’s health, construction and other administrative programs. This includes an increase of $5.1 billion for the Veterans Health Administration, $782 million for much needed modernization of the VA’s electronic health records, and $2 billion for VA infrastructure projects. 

The appropriations bill will fund the government through the end of fiscal year 2018, which ends of Sept. 31, 2018. The House passed the bill 256-167 on Thursday, March 22.

Isakson hopes to bring the Caring for Our Veterans Act to the full Senate for a vote after Congress returns from recess to address important reforms to veterans’ health care.

Highlights of the funding measure are included below:

Opioid Treatment and Overdose Prevention

Included in the fiscal year 2018 funding measure is $385.8 million, a $12.5 million increase, to fund opioid treatment and overdose prevention throughout the VA.

Medical Care

In addition to the amounts advanced appropriated for medical care for fiscal year 2018, the bill provides a $3.1 billion boost for medical care in fiscal year 2018. For fiscal year 2019, the bill provides $70.7 billion for the VA’s four medical care accounts.

Veterans Electronic Health Record

The funding measure provides $782 million to begin the contract to modernize the VA’s electronic health record and, eventually, to fully integrate them with the US Department of Defense.

Arlington National Cemetery

The funding measure includes $80.8 million for Army National Cemeteries operations, an increase of $10 million over fiscal year 2017 levels, as well as an additional $167 million for planning, design and construction of the Arlington National Cemetery Southern Expansion project.

Construction

The bill provides $855 million for major and minor construction within the VA. In addition, $2 billion is provided for infrastructure repair, with the funding allocated to minor construction, non-recurring maintenance and grants for state retirement homes for veterans.

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The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed services as well as more than 750,000 veterans.