Cuellar Votes for Veterans and Troops; Historic Funding Passes House
Cuellar asks VA Secretary to address veterans claims backlog in Houston
Jul 13, 2009 -
Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) today applauds House passage of the 2010 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, which includes over $77 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs and $24 billion for military construction and family housing through fiscal year 2010. The bill marks a historic increase in funding since 2007 and will improve veterans’ quality of care and programs to assist returning troops and their families.
"Our veterans and troops have a legacy of going above and beyond the call of duty. This increase in funding shows that Congress respects their service and stands by their needs,” said Congressman Cuellar. “I thank Chairman Edwards and Chairman Obey for their leadership in providing our troops with the quality of care they deserve. We’re improving our veterans’ services and we’re ensuring our facilities can handle the needs of our troops when they come home.”
By passing this bill, Congress has increased veterans funding by 58 percent since 2007. Over $34 billion will be invested in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) which is projected to treat more than six million patients in 2010. Funding will repair and enhance existing VA facilities by making a $4.9 billion investment in non-reoccurring maintenance at veterans’ health care centers. And over $440 million will go towards innovative practices to improve access to rural health care programs.
“We’re improving our veterans’ facilities while making sure they’re accessible to our veterans,” said Congressman Cuellar. “In fact, I’m working with the VA to bring mobile clinics to our rural communities in the next few months. We’re making sure our veterans get the care they need and the attention they deserve no matter where they live.”
The bill also includes over $4.6 billion to be invested in mental health care programs and includes $580 million in special funding for medical and prosthetic research to address the critical needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The VHA estimates their medical facilities will treat at least 419,000 patients returning from overseas next year.
The bill also includes over $2 billion for VA general operating expenses, enabling the VA to hire an additional 1,200 claims processors to work down a backlog of over 397,000 claims nationwide.
Last Friday, Congressman Cuellar spoke on the House floor with Congressman Chet Edwards, Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, asking that these funds address the reported claims backlog at the Regional VA Office in Houston. The Houston Chronicle reports that nearly 18,000 veterans are waiting for their disability applications to be processed.
“Most of the disability claims coming from veterans in our region are processed through Houston, and this backlog is one of the worst in nation,” said Congressman Cuellar. “I’ve written a letter to VA Secretary Shinseki, and I’m hopeful that he’ll work to see how this funding can address and remedy the problem.”
The bill also makes substantial investments to improve military quality of life, including over $2 billion in military housing investments to improve troop barracks and family housing. Since 2007, Congress has funded several initiatives to enhance military services for service members and their families, including over a billion dollars to fund new military child care centers serving over 20,000 children. On August 1, 2009, the new Post 9/11GI Bill will take effect, which is the most comprehensive four year education benefits program to pass since 1944.
“We’re funding our troops to unprecedented new levels, letting them know we appreciate their service and we’re letting their families know we appreciate their sacrifices too,” Congressman Cuellar said.
The bill passed last Friday with bi-partisan support by a vote of 415-3 and includes other notable provisions supporting our veterans and troops, including:
Guard and Reserve Initiative: $200 million in additional funding is provided for Army National Guard, Air National Guard, Army Reserve, Navy and Marine Corps Reserve, and Air Force Reserve construction to address critical unfunded requirements, in recognition of the tremendous contributions made by Guard and Reserve personnel to emergency assistance, homeland security, and national defense.
American Battle Monuments Commission: $61.8 million, $1.5 million above the President’s request and $2.3 million above 2009. This funding provides for the care and operation of our military monuments and cemeteries around the world.
Armed Forces Retirement Home: $134 million, the same as the President’s request and $71 million above 2009, for the Armed Forces Retirement Home, including $72 million for capital expenditures.
Congressman Henry Cuellar is a member of the U.S. House Homeland Security, Agriculture, and Government Oversight & Reform Committees in the 111th Congress. Accessibility to constituents, education, health care, economic development, and national security are his priorities. Congressman Cuellar is also a Senior Whip and member of the Blue Dog Coalition.