The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its fiscal year (FY) 2022 Military Construction, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) spending bill by a vote of 25-5 on Aug. 4. The bill included $882 million for the VA’s Medical and Prosthetic Research program — a $67 million (8.2%) increase over FY 2021, which matches the president’s budget request for FY 2022, but is lower than the House-passed level of $904 million.
During the Aug. 4 consideration of the bill, MilCon-VA Subcommittee Chair Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) noted the bill’s “groundbreaking investment in VA health care and research.” Ranking Member John Boozman (R-Ark.) also highlighted the increased research investment during his opening statement and noted that the bill was crafted in a bipartisan, collegial way.
. The House-passed bill included a total of $904 million for VA research following the adoption of an amendment to provide $2 million in additional funds to the research program [refer to Washington Highlights, July 30]. The Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research, a coalition of nearly 100 member groups that is organized by the AAMC, has recommended $902 million for the VA research program in FY 2022, as well as investments into physical and information technology needs to support the VA research program.
The Senate MilCon-VA bill matches the president’s budget request and the House-approved spending bill for the Veterans Health Administration’s Medical Community Care account, with a total of $23.4 billion for FY 2022 — a $4.9 billion (26.5%) increase over FY 2021 — as well as $24.2 billion in FY 2023 advanced appropriations.
For Medical Services, the Senate FY 2022 MilCon-VA bill again matches the president’s request with a total of $58.9 billion for FY 2022 — a $2.3 billion (4%) increase over FY 2021 — as well as $70.3 billion in advanced FY 2023 appropriations. The House bill differs with the inclusion of an additional $100 million for FY 2022.
The Senate bill maintains language requiring the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to approve specifically in writing of any research that would use dogs, cats, or nonhuman primates.
Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) commented more broadly on the appropriations process, noting that the bills passed by the committee would not be approved on the Senate floor without additional efforts on top-line funding.
“Our concerns about the path ahead are real. … With an agreement on top-line spending levels; parity between the rates of increase for defense and nondefense spending; an assurance that defense spending will not fall by the wayside; and a commitment to avoid partisan stumbling blocks, I am confident we can continue to work together,” Shelby stated.
McConnell added, “We need to agree what the forest will look like before senators are asked to start planting trees.”
Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) agreed that lawmakers need to start bipartisan discussions about top-line spending levels but did not offer a timeline for a path forward.
The MilCon-VA bill was approved with two other FY 2022 spending bills, for a total of three passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee as of Aug. 4. The House of Representatives has passed nine of its 12 spending bills with less than two months remaining before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.