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Progress Continues on FY2009 Appropriations Bills

This week, the House passed the FY2009 Military Construction, Veterans’ Affairs, and Related Agencies appropriations bill. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense approved its FY2009 Defense spending bill (as-yet-unnumbered). In addition, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees released their respective reports for the FY2009 Military Construction, Veterans’ Affairs, and Related Agencies spending bills.

Military Construction, Veterans’ Affairs, and Related Agencies

On August 1, the House passed, 409-4, the FY2009 Military Construction, Veterans’ Affairs, and Related Agencies spending bill (H.R. 6599). The House Appropriations Committee approved the measure on June 24 (see The Source, 6/27/08); the Senate Appropriations Committee passed its version (S. 3301) on July 17 (see The Source, 7/18/08).

Last week, the House and Senate Appropriations Committee released the reports for their respective bills, H.R. 6599 and S. 3301. The committee reports include language detailing a number of programs affecting women and their families. Although report language is not binding, federal agencies give careful consideration to such language as it indicates programs or initiatives that are particularly important to appropriators.

House Report

The bill would allocate $118.726 billion in FY2009 for programs to support the military and their families and to provide benefits to veterans, $10.335 billion over FY2008 and $3.382 billion over the administration’s request (p. 2).

Family housing would receive $3.166 billion in FY2009, $299.731 million over FY2008 and $37 million less than President Bush’s request (p. 25).

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) would receive $93.685 billion in FY2009, $6.09 billion over FY2008 and $2.924 billion over the budget request (p. 33).

Discussing the need for child care services at military installations, the committee notes the president’s “increased commitment to providing child care and youth activity services to military families” and “commends” the Department of Defense for “increasing the number of child development and youth activity facilities.” However, the committee indicates that “more effort is needed” and directs the secretaries of the armed forces to report to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees on the current waiting list for child care services at each military installation by August 1, 2008” (p. 13).

The committee includes language “to ensure that not less than $3.8 billion will be spent on specialty mental health care” and urges the VA to “continue work with the departments of Defense and Health and Human Services to develop comprehensive and universal clinical practice guidelines based on evidence-based medicine for PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], and to increase work in the areas of suicide prevention and military sexual trauma” (p. 41).

The committee also expresses its concern that the VA is not prepared to address the mental health needs of veterans and directs the VA to report to the appropriations committees “by January 30, 2009, on actions taken to address the recommendations made by the Fourth National Summit on Women Veterans Issues, the actions taken to address the recommendations made by the ‘Blue Ribbon Work Group on Suicide Prevention in the Veteran Population,’ the actions taken to address the recommendations made by the expert panel in public health suicide programs, and the actions taken by the Department to ensure that the VHA [Veterans Health Administration] is prepared both now and in the future to provide care for this population” (p. 42).

Senate Report

The Senate bill would allocate $119.743 billion in overall funding in FY2009, $11.352 billion over FY2008, $4.399 billion over the president’s request, and $1.017 billion over the House allocation.

Family housing would receive $3.217 billion under the bill, $330.467 million over FY2008, $13.295 million over the budget request, and $50.295 million over the House allocation (p. 20).

The VA would receive $94.793 billion in FY2009, $7.198 billion over FY2008, $4.032 billion over President Bush’s request, and $1.108 billion over the House appropriation (p. 128).

The committee “remains dedicated” to meeting the needs of returning women veterans and is working with the Department “to refine its programs, services, and outreach efforts in order to inform women veterans of their eligibility status and improve their access to services.” Given the expectation that the percentage of women veterans receiving care from the VA will double in the next five years and that women combat veterans will constitute a large portion of the increase, the committee recommends “an additional $5 million for outreach and transitional assistance for women veterans” (p. 41).

The committee notes that it is “pleased that the Department has begun to address the unique needs of women veterans with the establishment of the Center for Women Veterans and the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, and encourages the Department to continue its ongoing study of women’s issues and to expand outreach to women veterans to ensure they are aware of the benefits they have earned.” The committee also “urges the Department to better prepare for the anticipated surge of women veterans seeking health care from the VA” by conducting a “comprehensive assessment of the needs of women veterans, with a focus on specialized programs, including women veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, women who are homeless, women who require care for mental illness, sexual trauma, or substance abuse, and women who require prenatal care. Additionally, the Committee encourages the Department to create a certification program for clinicians working with victims of sexual trauma and to join with the Institute of Medicine, or a comparable organization, to conduct a study on the health consequences of women veterans serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan” (p. 41).

Defense

On July 30, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense approved, by voice vote, the FY2009 spending bill.

According to the committee summary, the bill would allocate $487.7 billion in FY2009, $28.4 billion over FY2008 and $4 billion below the president’s request.

The measure includes “an additional $300 million, for a total of $608 million, for family advocacy programs.” The bill would provide $150 million for peer-reviewed breast cancer research, $25 million for ovarian cancer research, and $617 million for traumatic brain injury and psychological research and treatment.

Additional information will be available when the committee report accompanying the bill is printed.

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