Kuster Statement on House Passage of Funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs
(Washington, DC) – Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02), the lead Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, released the following statement on her vote in favor of legislation to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and other federal agencies for the Fiscal Year 2019. The legislation included a number of important provisions that will help veterans in New Hampshire.
“This legislation is the result of genuine compromise and I was proud to support it,” said Kuster. “As the Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, I am dedicated to addressing the challenges at the VA including substance misuse among veterans, improvement of its electronic health records, and upgrading infrastructure for VA hospitals. This bill makes progress in all of these areas and will lead to important improvements in care for veterans in New Hampshire.”
The legislation includes several specific policy areas:
Veterans Affairs Total Budget
The bill includes $86.487 billion in discretionary funding, which is $5 billion more than the 2018 amount.
Mental Health Funding and Suicide Prevention
The bill provides $8.6 billion for mental health programs, which is $6 million above the request, and includes $206 million for suicide prevention outreach, an increase of $16 million above the request.
Expands Opioid Prevention and Treatment for Veterans
The bill provides $348 million for opioid treatment and prevention and $52 million to continue to implement opioid safety initiatives as required by the landmark Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. The bill also provides resources so VA can develop programs aimed at ensuring that doctors that treat veterans through community care programs are informed of opioid safety and prescription guidelines.
Electronic Health Records (EHR) Account
The bill provides $1.1 billion for the development of a new electronic health record. This funding is separate from that provided for general IT maintenance which means improved oversight and accountability as VA undertakes one of the most significant EHR modernization projects in history.
Physician assistants & Kuster’s GOOD Act
In support of Rep. Kuster’s Grow Our Own Directive, which is intended to improve hiring and retention of physician assistants in the VA, the bill directs VA to accelerate the rollout of competitive pay for physician assistants and develop a plan on how to better utilize the Health Professional Scholarship Program and Education Debt Reduction Program.
Improves VA Infrastructure
The bill provides the second installment of $2 billion for VA infrastructure needs. The funding includes $800 million for Medical Facilities for non-recurring maintenance, $750 million for seismic improvements, $300 million for Major Construction, and $150 million for Minor Construction.
National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
The bill provides $40,000,000 for the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCPTSD).
The NCPTSD is headquartered in White River Junction, VT and is partnered with Dartmouth College to help VA lead the country in mental health research and services. The $40 million will go toward sustaining new research projects, pilot programs, and system-wide improvements in treating PTSD and related mental health disorders.
The bill provides $270,000,000 for the Office of Rural Health (ORH) and the Rural Health Initiative, which is $20,000,000 above the President's request. This should help VA increase the number of Rural Health Resource Centers, thereby increasing access to care for veterans in rural areas.
The bill includes $1 billion in telehealth services, which is $30,000,000 above the President’s request. This additional funding should be used to expand telehealth capacity and services in rural areas.
Pembroke National Guard Readiness Center
The bill includes $12 million to expand facilities at the New Hampshire National Guard’s Pembroke, NH site. This will improve the readiness of NH’s Army National Guard to both assist Americans at home in support of disaster relief missions, and abroad in support of U.S. active duty forces keeping the nation secure.
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
The bill provides nearly $150 million to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to improve ship maintenance operations, including a significant investment of over $100 million on modernizing a dry dock to ensure the shipyard can fully repair America’s fleet of nuclear attack submarines.
Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA)
The bill provides $14,000,000 for identification, mitigation, and clean-up costs across the Department of Defense for PFOS and PFOA.