Hoeven: Senate Effort to Bring Defense Appropriations Bill to Floor Blocked, Military Construction/VA Bill Advances

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today issued the following statement after the Defense Appropriations bill was blocked and failed to get the 60 votes necessary to bring it to the floor for debate and amendments. The legislation funds the U.S. Department of Defense for national security needs, military operations abroad, and other important resources for the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families.

Following the Defense Appropriations vote, the Senate advanced to the floor the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill, also an important measure for our military. The legislation funds the construction and maintenance of the nation’s armed forces and provides services to our veterans, service members and National Guard members.

“Today, we tried once again to bring the Defense Appropriations Bill to the Senate floor for debate and amendments, but it was again blocked by our colleagues across the aisle. That’s unfortunate because the measure includes important provisions for the nation’s defenses, as well as for North Dakota.

“These include resources to support the Nuclear Force Improvement Program, replace the Minuteman III missile, modernize the B-52 bomber, retain the Global Hawk and conduct research on unmanned aerial systems. The measure also includes funding to support our National Guard. Because we host both Minot Air Force Base and Grand Forks Air Force Base, this is a very important bill for North Dakota, as well as the nation.

“While today’s effort fell short, this is an important bill for our country and our state, and I believe that we will ultimately get the necessary votes to pass it.

“On a positive note, the Senate was able to advance the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriation bill for Fiscal Year 2016. The measure provides our veterans, service members and National Guard with the resources they need to defend our country, and also funds the construction and maintenance of the nation’s armed forces. That includes the North Dakota Air National Guard’s Intelligence Targeting Facility in Fargo.”

Summary of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill 

The bill totals $77.6 billion in discretionary funding, $5.5 billion above the FY2015 level.  For the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Senate bill includes $69.2 billion in discretionary funding, $4.2 billion over last year’s level. This includes $48.7 billion for VA medical services.   For military construction, the bill contains $8.1 billion, $1.5 billion above last year’s level.

North Dakota:

North Dakota Air National Guard’s Intelligence Targeting Facility in Fargo: The committee-passed bill includes $7.3 million for the ND Air National Guard’s Intelligence Targeting Facility.  The building will support the new targeting mission in Fargo, including expanding the space available for the mission and creating a secure facility to handle classified information.

Veterans Choice Program and 40 Mile Limit: The committee report includes language that requires the Department of Veteran Affairs to submit a comprehensive cost analysis of the Veterans Choice Program’s 40 mile rule criteria. The report must provide potential solutions that offer veterans access to non-VA care when they live more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility that can’t provide the medical services a veteran requires.

Military Construction Highlights:

  • Military Family Housing – $1.4 billion to fund construction, operation and maintenance of military family housing
  • Military Medical Facilities – $678 million for construction and alterations for military medical facilities to care for 9.8 million eligible beneficiaries, including our wounded troops abroad.
  • Department of Defense (DOD) Education Facilities – $334 million for safety and infrastructure improvements at 10 DOD school facilities within the U.S. and overseas.
  • Guard and Reserve – $551 million to support the construction needs of the Guard and Reserve, $124 million above the FY2015 enacted level.
  • Missile Defense – $220.4 million provided to fully fund construction of a second missile defense site in Poland.

VA Highlights:

  • VA Mandatory Funding – The bill fulfills mandatory funding requirements such as: veteran disability compensation programs for 4.7 million veterans and their survivors; education benefits for nearly 1.2 million veterans; guaranteed home loans for 431,000 veterans; vocational rehabilitation and employment training for more than 137,000 veterans.
  • VA Medical Services – $48.7 billion to support treatment and care for approximately 6.9 million patients in FY2016.  The bill includes $622 million for research; $446 million for women veterans health care; $4.9 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans; $232 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; and $270 million for rural health initiatives.
  • VA Electronic Health Record – $233 million for continued modernization of the VA electronic health record system. 
  • Disability Claims Processing Backlog – $290 million for the paperless claims processing system, $141 million for digital scanning of health records, and $26 million for centralized mail. 
  • Construction – Nearly $1.4 billion for major and minor construction associated with VA hospital replacement and continued correction of safety issues and deficiencies.