The Senate Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Subcommittee June 5 and full Appropriations Committee June 7 held markups of the fiscal year (FY) 2019 MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill. The Subcommittee reported the bill favorably to the full committee by unanimous consent, followed by a favorable bipartisan vote of 31-0 in the full committee.
Subcommittee Chair John Boozman (R-Ark.) opened the markup with an overview of the bill, noting a total allocation of $97.1 billion, a $5.1 billion increase over FY 2018. Within this bill, the VA received a record high funding level of $86.4 billion, a $5 billion increase over FY 2018 and $1.1 billion over the president’s request. He noted that the bill adds generously to VA medical care, as well as provides “robust funding for innovative medical research” at $779 million for FY 2019. This is a $57 million (7.9 percent) increase over the FY 2018 omnibus funding level.
Ranking Member Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) noted that the FY 2019 bill builds upon progress made in the FY 2018 omnibus by including an additional $750 million for care at VA medical centers and an additional $1 billion for community care above FY 2019 advanced appropriation levels. The addition brings the Medical Community Care budget to $9.4 billion for FY 2019. He mentioned that subcommittee members “agree that VA’s community partners are essential to provide care for our veterans.”
Regarding additional VA medical accounts, Sen. Schatz thanked Chairman Boozman “for working together to reject the Administration’s proposal to consolidate the Medical Community Care and Medical Services accounts which would weaken the committee’s oversight and obscure how the VA obligates money.”
In the full committee markup, both Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) used their opening statements to comment on funding for the VA MISSION Act, passed by the Senate and House Committees in May and signed into law June 6 [see Washington Highlights May 11, May 25]. The new law sets the stage for a new VA Community Care Program, which replaces the existing VA Choice program, however provides program funding through discretionary channels, subject to the annual appropriations process. Sen. Leahy noted that the MISSION Act costs were not accounted for when the committee negotiated the MilCon-VA 302(b) allocation for FY 2019. Chairman Shelby noted that “[veterans] care should not be subject to the whims of Congressional budget negotiations” and both members noted their commitment to ensuring Congress funds the MISSION Act without cutting other important VA programs.
The House Subcommittee April 26 passed its own MilCon-VA bill [see Washington Highlights, April 27], which was included in a House mini-bus package passed by the full House 8 June. The final MilCon-VA bill included an amendment to increase VA Medical Services by $8 million and simultaneously decreased the Community Care account by $8 million.