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  • Washington Highlights

    House Passes FY 2020 Package with Funding for VA Health and Research

    Christa Wagner, Manager, Government Relations

    The House of Representatives June 25 approved a five-bill spending package (H.R. 3055) including the Military Construction, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) Appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2020. One Democrat joined all Republicans in voting against the measure with a final vote of 227-194.

    The House June 21 concluded debate on amendments to the MilCon-VA spending bill [see Washington Highlights, May 10], with no topline funding changes in comparison to the subcommittee-approved bill [see Washington Highlights, May 3]. The amendments did not alter the committee-approved funding levels for the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research program; however, several amendments to the Medical Services accounts increased funding for FY 2020 to address veteran suicide, homelessness, women-specific health care, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Included in the House-passed MilCon-VA bill is language to restrict the use of canines in research in the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research program. The AAMC June 27 joined over 50 institutions and organizations in a letter to Senate Appropriations MilCon-VA Subcommittee leadership urging the Subcommittee to reject the House’s restrictions. The letter highlights the value of canine research to the veteran community “for understanding a variety of conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, narcolepsy, autoimmune disease, ocular disorders and epilepsy. Canine research models are proposed only when appropriate and scientifically necessary for the research study.”

    The House Veterans Affairs Oversight Subcommittee June 26 also addressed the VA research program through a hearing focused on the Million Veteran Program (MVP), VA’s personalized medicine research program. In her opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) highlighted the rich databases and comprehensive medical records of veterans as “ an increasingly attractive option” for private industry investment, and that the lack of federal funding for research is a reason why VA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) should continue to compete for private funding and “retain access to the technology and research infrastructure” these partners can provide.

    VA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Discovery, Education, and Affiliated Networks (DEAN) Carolyn Clancy, MD, reminded Subcommittee members that VA is the largest and most diverse health care system in the world. Clancy highlighted three research priorities for ORD: increasing access to clinical trials, increasing real-world impact of VA research, and putting “VA data to work for veterans.”

    Clancy stated that the MVP is “the largest mega-biobank in the world. Over 750,000 veterans from all 50 states, Guam, and Puerto Rico have enrolled.” ORD hopes to increase its capacity for researchers to investigate the collected genomic data through a partnership with the University of Chicago and the Open Commons Consortium to pilot a VA Data Commons. Because MVP does not distribute data for analysis but rather hosts researchers to conduct their studies in a secure computing environment, the collaboration aims to increase computational infrastructure so that at least 100 independent projects can be hosted to analyze data simultaneously by the end of FY 2021.