U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) today applauded the passage of H.R.6599, the Fiscal Year 2009 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill. This legislation will provide $93.7 billion for veterans’ programs, an increase of nearly $6.1 billion over last year’s funding level. The bill passed the House by a vote of 409-4.
 
“This funding reaffirms our commitment to provide world class care for those who have faithfully served our country. Building on last year’s appropriations bill, which provided the single largest increase for veterans’ programs in the history of the VA, this bill again increases our investments to ensure veterans have timely access to top-notch VA health care and facilities,” Smith said.
 
Some of the key provisions of the bill include:
  • Mental Health Care: $3.8 billion for specialty mental health care to ensure that all veterans have access to mental health services and $584 million for substance abuse programs.  
  • Facility Maintenance and Renovations: $5 billion for maintenance and renovations on existing facilities to address shortfalls and ensure the facilities remain capable of providing first-class care.
  • “Priority 8” Veterans: $568 million to increase the enrollment of “Priority 8” veterans in VA healthcare by 10%. These are veterans who exceed a certain economic threshold and do not have a service-connected condition. This will be the first time there has been new enrollment for Priority 8 veterans since 2003. 
  • Assistance for Homeless Veterans: $130 million for the homeless grants program and to hire additional personnel for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program. 
  • Travel Reimbursements: $100 million to raise the beneficiary travel reimbursement rate from 28.5 cents per mile to 41.5 cents per mile.
  • Claims Processors: Funds for 1,400 new claims processors to reduce the backlog of disability and other claims on behalf of veterans. 

In addition to providing for veterans, H.R.6599 provides $24.8 billion for military construction and other projects that will improve living conditions and quality of life for military personnel. Locally, Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base will receive $344.1 million for construction projects, including $8.6 million for a new facility for the 262nd Information Warfare Aggressor Squadron (IWAS), a project specifically requested and secured by Congressman Smith.
 
“The 262nd IWAS, a Washington State Air National Guard squadron, is at the cutting edge of protecting U.S. national security in today’s high-tech world. I am proud to have these cyber warriors - most of whom have civilian day jobs at local tech companies - here in the Puget Sound area. They need this new facility as the squadron takes on a more prominent role in America’s cyber-security efforts,” Smith said.
 
The Senate must now consider similar legislation before the bill can be signed into law by the President.