By a vote of 407-12, the House on 31 MAY overwhelming passed the Military Construction/VA funding bill despite threats of a veto by the Administration. To see how your representative voted, click on http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2012/roll305.xml. The bill, H.R.5854, provides $146.4 billion dollars for FY 2013, which is a 10-percent increase above last year's levels. VA funding includes $54.5 in Advanced Appropriations for medical care, a boost for medical services and increases for jobs and disability programs for veterans. House members voted to withhold funding on the DOD-VA integrated medical record project until both departments implement recommendations made by GAO earlier this year. This voted amount is $1.5 billion less than the AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States annual Independent Budget recommendation of $3.2 billion to meet increased demand and rising health care costs . The approved amount also provides:
$6.2 billion for mental health services
$5.8 billion for homeless veterans programs
$35 million for continued research on the effects of PTSD and TBI
$174 million for expansion of Arlington National Cemetery
$1.1 billion for major and minor construction projects
$1.7 billion for family and military personnel housing
House Adopted Amendments to the bill included:
Blumenauer (D-OR) – The amendment makes a symbolic funding cut of $10 million to the Defense-wide Planning and Design, and then adds the funding back to the same account. The purpose of the amendment is to express support for the Department of Defense (DoD) efforts for continued improvement to energy security and renewable energy initiatives. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Hayworth (R-NY) – The amendment allows non-active duty National Guard and Reservists to purchase government memorial headstones. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Welch (D-VT) – The amendment allows funds to be used for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to comply with statutory energy management requirements and report on the inventory of energy efficiency in VA buildings, to be published online. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Terry (R-NE) – The amendment requires a VA Inspector General report on cost overrides on faulty bidding. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Blumenauer (D-OR) – The amendment makes a symbolic funding cut of $35 million, and then adds the funding back to the same account, to encourage VA to increase their efforts on researching the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, as increasing numbers of veterans return from the battlefield. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Schock (R-IL) – The amendment makes a symbolic funding cut of $16 million to the Veterans Health Administration, and then adds the funding back to the same account. The purpose of the amendment is to draw attention to importance of pilot programs – Project ARCH and Project HERO – that provide veterans’ health care through local and/or private providers. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Grimm (R-NY) – The amendment strikes a provision in the bill that prohibits funding for the DoD or VA to solicit construction contracts that either favor or oppose project labor agreements (PLAs). The amendment would allow the Administration to continue to use PLAs in the consideration of federal contract bids. The amendment was adopted on a vote of 218-198.
Fitzpatrick (R-PA) – The amendment prohibits funding for federal contracts that do not give veteran-owned small businesses all available preferences. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Poe (R-TX) – The amendment prohibits funds to employ a new national cemetery director who is not a veteran. The amendment passed on a voice vote.
Poe (R-TX) – The amendment prohibits funds from being used to stop any veteran service organization from participating in the funeral or memorial service of a veteran. The amendment passed on a voice vote.
Runyan (R-TX) – The amendment prohibits funding for DoD to informally close any military bases. The amendment passed on a voice vote.
Flores (R-TX) – The amendment prohibits funds to implement a regulation under the Energy Independence and Security Act (section 526). The regulation prohibits federal contracts for alternative fuels, unless the alternative fuels are proven to produce less greenhouse gas than conventional fuels. This overly burdensome regulation would limit the ability of the federal government – including the Pentagon – from exploring and using alternative fuel options. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Webster (R-FL) – The amendment requires the director of construction and facilities management in the Department of Veterans Affairs to meet the employment requirements of current law. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
Stearns (R-FL) – The amendment prohibits the use of funds for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide performance awards for employees of the Senior Executive Services. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote.
[Source: VFW Washington Weekly 1 Jun 2012 ++]
The House on 31 MAY approved a measure offered by the Ocala Republican that would do away with salary bonuses to senior administrators within the VA. Stearns' amendment to a bill containing the VA's 2013 budget passed on a voice vote without opposition, according to House records. In a statement, Stearns, a longtime member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the agency's top management should not be rewarded when military veterans are receiving less than exemplary service from the agency. "I want to ensure the best care for our veterans, but the VA continues to have an unmanageable backlog, extremely long wait lists and a poor record on oversight," Stearns said. "Given this troubling record, the VA should discontinue paying bonuses to its top executives." Stearns' amendment targets staffers within the senior executive service, or SES, the level of managers just below presidential appointees that administer policy and oversee the rest of the federal civil service. Stearns noted that SES workers are already paid between $120,000 and $180,000 a year.
He also highlighted testimony given last November to the Veterans Affairs Committee by Carl Blake of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, who said that the average bonus for VA employees within the SES was $14,000. Yet the VA has a current backlog of more than 567,000 claims, and the average wait time for a veteran to have a claim resolved is eight months, according to Stearns. "This is why there should be no bonuses for VA's top executives," said Stearns, who represents one of the most veteran-heavy districts in the country. "The VA should focus its resources on caring for veterans and not on bonuses for its highest paid employees," he said. The amendment would not affect Stearns' district. According to Stearns' office, Thomas Capello was the only SES-level employee at a VA facility in Stearns' North Florida district. Capello, who retired earlier this year, made $179,900 last year — more than six times the per capita income in Florida — while serving as director of the VA district that included the Malcom Randall Medical Center in Gainesville and the Lake City VA hospital as well as three regional outpatient clinics and seven community-based facilities in Florida and Georgia. He managed a $797 million yearly budget and almost 4,700 employees who served more than 121,000 veterans. The Senate must still consider the VA budget bill. The House version passed by a lopsided 407-12. [Source: Ocala Star-Banner Bill Thompson article 2 Jun 2012 ++]