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HOUSE PASSES $70 BILLION IN VA FUNDING FOR FY 06

P R E S S  R E L E A S E - Friday November 18, 2005

http://veterans.house.gov/news/109/11-18-05.html

Washington, D.C. — Today, the house passed H.R. 2528, the Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2006, which appropriates $70.038 billon for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Funding for Veterans medical care has increased by 18% over the last two years. For the first time ever, this bill allocates $2.2 billion solely for mental healthcare and doubles funding for mental health research.

“This increase in VA funding for 2006 will ensure a quality veterans healthcare system and help us improve the accuracy and responsiveness of the veterans' benefits system,” said Chairman Steve Buyer.

The bill also includes recommendations that the VA initiate a new pilot program to provide a comprehensive restructuring of the complete revenue collections cycle and states that the VA provide quarterly progress reports to the Committees on Appropriations in both Houses of Congress. This will allow the VA to improve their revenue collections of billed amounts from third party insurance companies.

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS FUNDING:

$36.995 billion mandatory

$31.818 billion discretionary

$1.225 billion contingent emergency funding for medical services

$70.038 billion TOTAL VA

*Including the recently passed COLA, total VA funding would be brought up to $70.249 billion.

Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Care and Benefits:

Veterans Medical Services are funded at $22.5 billion, $575 million above the President’s budget request and $1.7 billion above FY05. VA also has available an additional $1.14 billion in available funding from FY 05 for carry over into the FY 06 funds.

Mental Health Services - for the first time ever, $2.2 billion is fenced for specialty mental health care and the bill doubles funding for mental health research.

This bill contains a new “Prosthetics and Integrative Health Care Initiative” to treat returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan who have lost limbs in combat. $412 million will provide for medical and prosthetic research, which is $19 million over the budget request.

For construction programs, the bill recommends the budget request levels of $607 million for major construction and $199 million for minor construction. Of these funds, $532 million of major construction and $155 million of minor construction are designated for the “Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services” or CARES program.

Veteran’s Benefits are increased $1.9 billion over last year.

Other highlights include:

* $1.2 billion for VA IT and IT restructuring.

* An additional $40 million for VBA operation expenses to prevent staff reductions in processing disability claims benefits.

* $85 million for state extended care facilities.

* Creates 3 “Centers of Excellence” for Mental Health/PTSD medical care.

* Requires VA to brief Congress on a quarterly basis on the status of their financial situation.

* Requires the VA to maintain the current system of processing home monitoring devices for diabetes patients.

* Fully funds all mental health care and PTSD requirements.

The agreement encourages the VA to provide full assistance to veterans in rural areas through information campaigns and distribution of VA benefits handbooks.