July 2009 Archives

Military construction-VA package passes Senate subcommittee
By Andy Leonatti CongressDaily
July 7, 2009

The Senate Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved a nearly $134 billion spending package for fiscal 2010 on Monday.
The subcommittee moved the bill by unanimous consent without any amendments. It provides $133.9 billion, including $76.7 billion in discretionary spending. On June 24, the House Appropriations Committee approved a $133 billion total spending package.
Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said the discretionary spending was more than $439.1 million over President Obama's request, and $3.8 billion more than fiscal 2009 enacted spending.
The bill approves $109 billion total for the Veterans' Affairs Department, including $53.2 billion in discretionary funding, $150 million above Obama's request. Total medical care funding for VA is $44.7 billion.
Johnson said the subcommittee has "done our best to address both the needs of the military and our veterans in this legislation."
The bill provides $48.2 billion in advance appropriations for the VA for fiscal 2011, Johnson added. The advance appropriations include $37.1 billion for medical services, $5.3 billion for medical support and compliance and $5.7 billion for medical facilities.
The VA funding includes $2.1 billion for health care for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a $463 million increase over fiscal 2009, and $5.9 billion for long-term care for aging veterans and severely wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. It also includes $1.9 billion for VA hospital and clinic construction.
Subcommittee ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, praised the bill, and said it was "good that construction needs are met." Hutchison was pleased that $7.5 billion for the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure program was included, and said fully funding the program would ensure it would finish on time in 2011.
The bill also provides $1.4 billion for military construction projects in Afghanistan.

VA Launches 10-Year Study of Veterans' Health
Appropriations Update More Info
July 8, 2009

On Tuesday, June 16, 2009, Representative Chet Edwards, Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, announced final numbers for the fiscal year (FY) 2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act and the news is very good for veterans. The full Appropriations Committee approved the bill on June 23.

In a historic first, the appropriations act for FY 2010 also includes $48.2 billion in advance appropriations for fiscal year FY 2011 for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care. This is an eight percent increase over the proposed FY 2010 level, and will provide reliable and timely funding to support the delivery of medical care. Advance appropriations has been DAV's highest legislative priority this year and its inclusion in this year's funding bill is a major victory for all veterans.

Furthermore, to make this victory permanent, both the House and Senate are moving towards passage of the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act (H.R. 1016/S. 423), legislation that would authorize advance appropriations for VA medical care programs in statute and create new budget reporting requirements to aid Congress in setting sufficient funding levels for veterans health care. On June 23, the House voted 409 to 1 to pass H.R. 1016. This measure has now been sent to the Senate for consideration. Please continue to write your elected officials on both of these important bills.

The appropriations bill also included $53 billion in discretionary funding for VA for FY 2010, which is a record level of funding. This total is slightly more than the President's request and $5.4 billion more than FY 2009 non-emergency appropriations. This discretionary number includes:

• $45.1 billion for the Veterans Health Administration, $4.4 billion above FY 2009
• $580 million for medical and prosthetic research
• $2.1 billion for general operating expenses, $287 million above FY 2009, which includes an additional 1,200 additional claims processors.
• $250 million for the National Cemetery Administration, $20 million above FY 2009
• $19.2 million for the Office of Inspector General
• $3.3 billion for Information Technology; and
• $1.9 billion for VA construction, $256 million above FY 2009.

It is unclear when the full House will consider the MilCon/VA appropriations bill.

On July 6, 2009, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans' Affairs, and Related Agencies marked up the bill at similar levels as the House for FY 2010 and FY 2011.

On July 7, 2009, the full Committee approved these levels and sent the bill to the full Senate for approval.

Both the House and Senate Committees provide $48.2 billion in advance appropriations for FY 2011

July 17, 2009

DoD, VA Make Progress in Care for Wounded


The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have made significant inroads toward forging a joint plan to care for wounded service members, the Government Accountability Office stated in a July 8 report to Congress. The two agencies are doing a better job of routing wounded veterans to the evaluation and care they need, as well as determining if they can resume their military careers or need transition services, according to the GAO report.

But more work is needed to resolve issues like timely resolution of cases, and standardization of terminology.

For instance, DoD and VA still must agree on a definition of “mental health.” The report noted that the DoD and VA Joint Executive Council is still working on these issues.

For Immediate Release
June 26, 2009

Disabled Veterans Receive Property Tax Relief

(AUSTIN) — Military veterans who are totally disabled or cannot work because of service-related injuries will pay no property taxes on their homes under a new tax exemption approved by the Legislature.

"Texas has done the right thing by providing property tax relief for our military men and women who have served their country and paid a heavy price," Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said.

House Bill 3613 provides an exemption of the total appraised value of the homesteads of Texas veterans who have received a 100 percent disability rating or are considered unemployable by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The new law is effective for the 2009 tax year, and swift action is necessary to update local property tax rolls and ensure eligible veterans receive the new tax break.

Eligible disabled veterans must apply for the tax exemption through their county appraisal district.  An application form for veterans and appraisal districts to use can be found on the Comptroller’s Web site at http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/taxforms/vetexempt.pdf.

Veterans may also need to contact their mortgage lenders to adjust their escrow payments.

July 23, 2009
GAO: Increase in Women Veterans a Challenge for VA

VA officials have identified a number of challenges they face in providing health care services to the increasing numbers of women veterans seeking VA health care, among them space constraints, GAO told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee recently.

For example, the number, size, or configuration of exam rooms or bathrooms sometimes made it difficult for facilities to comply with VA requirements related to privacy for women veterans.

Officials also reported challenges hiring providers with specific training and experience in women's health care and in mental health care, such as treatment for women veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder or who had experienced sexual trauma, according to GAO-09-884T

GAO said VA provided health care to over 281,000 women veterans in 2008 - an increase of about 12 percent since 2006 - and the number of women veterans in the United States is projected to increase by 17 percent between 2008 and 2033.

While GAO said the results of the site visits it partly based its testimony on can not be generalized across all VA facilities, VA officials generally agreed with its observations.

July 29, 2009

GAO Calls for Management Improvements to Health Records Effort
While the VA and DoD have made progress setting up a joint interagency program office to act as a single
point of accountability in the development of electronic health records systems by a September 30 deadline,
the office is not yet effectively positioned to be accountable for the departments' efforts to achieve
fully interoperable electronic health record systems or capabilities, GAO told a House panel.

The departments have taken the important steps of completing personnel descriptions and hiring necessary
staff to perform the office's functions, but key leadership positions – such as those for the director
and deputy director continue to be filled on an interim basis, according to GAO-09-895T.

It said the office has also established a charter and begun to demonstrate responsibilities outlined
within this document, but still needs to begin fulfilling key IT management responsibilities in the areas
of performance measurement, project planning, and scheduling, all of which are essential to establishing
the office as a single point of accountability for the departments' interoperability efforts.

So far the departments have achieved planned capabilities for refining social history data, sharing
physical exam data, and demonstrating initial network gateway operation. They have yet to realize
capabilities to expand questionnaires and self-assessment tools, expand DoD inpatient medical records
system, and demonstrate initial document scanning, said GAO.

July 31, 2009
SMA Calls for TRICARE Review


Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston used a July 23 appearance on Capitol Hill as an opportunity to press lawmakers to improve service members’ access to TRICARE services. TRICARE provides service members and their families with access to health care when military treatment facilities are not readily convenient. But many civilian doctors decline to accept TRICARE, because of lengthy waits for reimbursement of services, Preston told members of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee during a hearing on military family support programs. “One of the major accessibility challenges to getting quality medical care if finding sufficient health-care providers outside our military installations who accept TRICARE payment,” Preston said.