Congressmen Garamendi Votes to Reduce VA Backlog
Bill Reforms Veterans Benefit System and Funds Military Construction
Congressman Garamendi speaks in favor of Congressman LaMalfa's amendment to help veterans receive their benefits.
WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA), a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, yesterday voted for H.R. 4486, the bipartisan Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act of 2015. The legislation passed by a vote of 416 to 1.
The Congressman added language to the bill that will establish the strategic importance of bases, including Travis and Beale Air Force Bases, whose mission focus is executing the pivot to the Pacific Theater, which is part of the Defense Strategic Guidance (pages 17 and 18 of the legislation).
The bill would also increase funding and implement reforms to dramatically reduce the veterans’ benefit claims backlog.
“Our veterans have sacrificed enormously for our nation. We have the highest moral obligation to ensure they receive the benefits they’ve earned and every possible opportunity to succeed. This bill has powerful tools to slash the shameful veterans’ claims backlog. It provides the VA with needed resources and the necessary pressure to modernize their system and better serve our vets,” said Congressman John Garamendi who represents tens of thousands of veterans.
The backlog has resulted from an increase in veterans’ claims stemming from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and an increase in Agent Orange-related claims from the Vietnam War, which have overwhelmed an outdated and underfunded Veterans Benefits Administration.
Highlights of the Veterans Affairs portion of the bill:
- To ensure continuing oversight of interoperability between DoD and VA medical records systems, the Committee recommendation requires the VA to report on progress before release of 75 percent of the funding provided, and requires specific information on interoperability capability to be provided to the Committee by July 31, 2014.
- To reduce the veterans’ benefits claims backlog, the Committee recommendation fully funds the budget request of $173.3 million for the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) and provides an additional $20 million to the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) for digitizing records and staffing needs.
- Continue to require the VA to provide monthly reports on claims processing and remediation efforts for underperforming regional offices.
- Provides $3.87 billion for the Information Technology (IT) account, which is $167.2 million more than the 2014 enacted level and $32.7 million below the budget request.
- Fully funds the budget request for prosthetic research at $588.9 million, which is $3.2 million more than the 2014 enacted level, and includes a 3% carve-out for research focused on female prosthetic needs.
- Fully funds both the Major ($561.8 million) and Minor ($495.2 million) construction accounts for a total of $1.057 billion.
- As authorized by Congress in 2009, the VA medical services accounts are provided funding one year in advance. The recommendation includes the budget request for 2016 advance funding of $58.7 billion.
During debate on amendments for the bill, Congressman Garamendi spoke in favor of an amendment offered by Congressman LaMalfa, which would allow Congressional Office staff to help veterans with claims that are transferred to offices in other regions or states.
“My office is here to serve veterans, and this amendment would have cleared an unnecessary roadblock. While the measure has been withdrawn, I will continue to work in a bipartisan fashion to resolve this matter,” said Garamendi.