Senate Committee Approves FY2016 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, today reported committee approval for federal funding needed to replace the aging Guy II & Will Jones U.S. Army Reserve Center (USARC) in Starkville.

The Senate Appropriations Committee today approved the FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, providing $9.3 million in Army Reserve funding to construct a new USARC. Overall, the legislation provides funding to equip and house military personnel, and increases funding for veterans’ benefits and programs. The bill conforms to spending restrictions set by law and the FY2016 budget resolution.

“There’s little doubt that the existing Army Reserve Center in Starkville has outlived its usefulness and needs to be replaced. The Army Reserve has put forward a plan to replace this dilapidated facility with a new facility that meets modern standards and, importantly, the training needs of the Army,” Cochran said. “I appreciate that our Senate bill begins the process of making this funding available within the statutory spending caps.”

A new USARC facility in Starkville has been certified by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Housing and Partnerships to be considered for joint-use potential. The project was authorized in the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act and included in the President’s FY2016 budget request to Congress this year. Unlike the Senate bill, the FY2016 MilCon-VA bill approved by the House of Representatives did not include funding for the USARC project in Mississippi.

Increased funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs represents a major feature of the committee-passed bill, with a record level $163.8 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding provided for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The added $4.6 billion over the FY2015 level will improve the provision of services and care earned by veterans through their dedicated service to our nation. A $1.1 billion discretionary increase would be available to improve patient access to care, and to support additional health care services including coverage of the drug to cure hepatitis C, veterans’ caregiver services, and homeless veterans’ assistance.

“We’ve made a concerted effort to provide significant new resources to give the Department of Veterans Affairs every chance to improve its performance and enhance delivery of health care, benefits and services to our nation’s veterans. The bill increases funding for veterans in the areas where they need it the most-health care, benefit claims processing, medical research and technology upgrades,” Cochran said. “Additionally, the bill includes necessary and vital new oversight measures, such as whistleblower protections and new construction reforms, to help ensure that the VA uses taxpayer resources much more wisely and effectively.”

The bill funds the VA Electronic Health Record Program but restricts full usage of the funding until the VA demonstrates functional improvements in the exchange of veterans’ medical data between the VA, Department of Defense and private health care providers. The bill also increases the oversight of major VA medical construction programs.

At Cochran’s request the bill includes language directing the VA to continue reporting to Congress the details of its actions to resolve administration and care problems at the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi and the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport.

The FY2016 MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill is now available for consideration by the full Senate.