House subcommittee approves $77.3 billion bill for military construction, veterans affairs

In addition, the bill continues last year’s first-ever advance appropriations for three Veterans Affairs medical accounts, including $50.6 billion for fiscal year 2012.

Subcommittee Chairman Chet Edwards (D-Texas) said the measure continues what the panel started three years ago to provide better facilities and services for the nation's soldiers and veterans. 

"According to Department of Defense historical data, in the past three years we have invested more in military construction than in any comparable period since 1948," Edwards said at Wednesday's markup. 

Part of that investment in the fiscal 2011 bill is more than $3 billion for new military hospitals, including new hospitals at Fort Benning, Fort Riley, Fort Hood, Fort Bliss, Camp Lejeune and Camp Pendleton; more than $1 billion for child development centers serving more than 20,000 military dependents; and an additional $900 million to accelerate the building of new barracks.

Edwards noted several highlights during the past three years including, increasing VA discretionary funding by $23 billion or 60 percent, adding 8,300 claims processors to handle the 1 million claims the VA now receives annually and funding a $63 billion GI Bill. 

Under the fiscal 2011 bill, the Veterans Affairs Department would receive $57 billion, $3.9 billion more than last year, representing a 7.4 percent increase. 

Lawmakers have increased the baseline for the VA by $27 billion, or 70 percent, since January 2007. 

For fiscal year 2011, the Veterans Health Administration is funded at $48.8 billion. In addition, the bill provides advance appropriations for fiscal year 2012 in the amount of $50.6 billion. 

The measure also provides for $5.2 billion in 2011 and $5.6 billion in 2012 for mental health services, $4.2 billion in 2011 for homeless veteran services of which $800 million is for specific homeless programs and $3.4 billion is for medical services. About $590 million is for medical research, including funds for veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

Another $5.7 billion in 2011 and $5.4 billion in 2012 is to address the recurring and non-recurring maintenance needs at medical facilities.

The bill includes $286 million for related agencies, including an increase of $5 million above last year's amount and $2 million above the request. An additional $1.5 million will go toward dealing with mismanagement issues at Arlington National Cemetery to hire additional staff and implement the Total Cemetery Management System to automate its operations.