Alabama lawmakers part of House push to pass VA funding bill, call for progress on benefits issue
The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the 2015 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriation bill Wednesday that includes additional VA oversight and funding to help clear the backlog of benefit cases.
The bill, which received the full support of Alabama's Congressional delegation, includes $158 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding for the VA, about $10.3 billion more than 2014. Overall, spending in the bill is reduced by $1.8 billion through cuts to military construction.
The bill comes as the VA is under increasing fire for problems associated with veterans care and backlog of benefit claims.
"Thousands of doctors, nurses, and public servants at the VA work hard to give veteran patients the best health care we can offer," Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said. "But too often, our system fails those it was created to help. An outrageous backlog of cases at the VA has caused veterans in need of care to wait months for services they deserve. In some instances, veterans have died waiting for health services from the VA.
"That's unacceptable in America, and we need to do something about it."
The legislation contains $45 billion for VA medical services, including $7.2 billion for mental health services, $133 million for suicide prevention, $229 million for the treatment of traumatic brain injuries, $250 million for rural health services and $7.4 billion for homeless veterans services and job training.
It directs $344 million towards modernizing the VA's electronic health record system and $173 million for updating the paperless claims processing system, both steps designed to help lower the number of backlogged claims.
Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile, said the bill "represents a step forward in honoring the commitment the federal government made to these men and women in return for their service," including 415,000 Alabama veterans.
"To be sure, we face many significant hurdles, not least a VA backlog that is leaving many American veterans without access to sufficient care. However, I am optimistic ... that we can and will make progress on this critical issue," Byrne said.
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