(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) helped pass legislation through the full Senate Appropriations Committee that provides nearly $95 billion for the VA. The funding, which is included in the Senate fiscal year 2009 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill, is $3.29 billion more than the President requested. The majority of the funding will go directly to health care services which will help cut wait-times and increase access to quality care and mental health services for our veterans. The bill must still be passed by the full Senate.
"The best way to improve care for our veterans is to make the VA more accessible – right now it is simply stretched too thin," Senator Murray said. "This bill provides the VA with the funding to increase access, decrease wait times and hire and train the quality professionals who treat the unique wounds of war.”
Senator Murray also helped add funding to increase gas mileage reimbursements for veterans who have to travel long distances for care. The funding will increase reimbursements from 28.5 cents to 50.5 cents per mile.
"For too many veterans seeing a doctor means long drives. And as gas prices continue to soar, seeking care has become even more difficult for those who have already sacrificed so much," Senator Murray said. "No veteran should have to choose between filling up the tank and receiving the care they need. We need to increase the mileage reimbursement and increase care for our veterans."
The bill also expands access for Priority 8 veterans who have been prohibited from accessing the VA system since 2003, and improves access to care for rural areas through new clinics, mobile clinics, and telemedicine.
"Much of the additional funding we've included in this bill focuses squarely on breaking down barriers to VA care," said Senator Murray. "Whether it's giving veterans a realistic reimbursement for gas mileage or expanding service to underserved communities, this bill opens the doors of the VA to more veterans. As more veterans return home each day, we have to ensure that the VA is available to them no matter where they live, how far they have to drive, or how much money they make."
The additional funding included in today's bill includes:
- $350 million for the VA to increase the income eligibility threshold for Priority 8 veterans. Priority 8 veterans are those veterans with non-service-connected disabilities whose income is above a modest level that varies across the country. Since 2003, Priority 8 veterans who have tried to enroll in the VA health care system have been denied care.
- $250 million for a new rural health initiative to allow VA to expand initiatives such as telemedicine, mobile clinics, fee based care, and open new clinics in rural areas.
- $138 million for the VA to raise the mileage reimbursement rate from 28.5 cents to 50.5 cents per mile.
WASHINGTON STATE PRIORITES
Senator Murray also worked to include language in the veterans spending bill that encourages the VA to move forward with several Washington state projects, including veterans facilities in underserved areas of the state. The following are some of the state priorities and projects that Murray has instructed the VA to move forward with:
Northwest Washington Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) – The language Senator Murray included strongly urges the VA to open a permanent community-based outpatient clinic in Northwest Washington as soon as possible.
Walla Walla Outpatient Facility - In order to complete the construction of this project in a timely manner, the Senator Murray included language urging the VA to include design funding for this project in the fiscal year 2010 budget request.
Walla Walla Extended Care Facility – The language Senator Murray included recognizes that the Appropriations Committee supports the creation of a jointly operated veterans’ home in Walla Walla, WA and encourages the VA to promptly review this application and place on the priority list for funding from the Grants for Construction of State Extended Care Facilities account in FY 2009.
Walla Walla Mental Health Facility – The language that Senator Murray included applauds the VA's decision to build a state-of-the-art residential rehabilitation facility focused on mental health at the Walla Walla VA Medical Center and urges the VA to complete the project as soon as possible.
South Puget Sound Community Based Outpatient Clinic – The language Senator Murray included urges the VA to open the South Puget Sound CBOC as soon as possible in order to increase access to these veterans.
2009 National Veterans Wheelchair Games - The language Senator Murray included recognizes that the National Veterans Wheelchair Games are central to the rehabilitation, health promotion, and prevention of secondary medical conditions and encourages the VA to continue its work in this regard. The 2009 National Veterans Wheelchair Games will take place in Spokane, WA.
Caregivers Assistance – The language Senator Murray included urges the VA to increase their efforts to care for members of families caring for injured veterans and to improve outreach so that these families have every resource available to them to care for their loved ones.
Age Related Hearing Loss - The language that Senator Murray included encourages the VA to examine and support the development and clinical testing of therapeutics aimed at preventing and treating, sensorineural, age-related, noise-induced and drug-induced hearing loss.
TOTAL FUNDING IN BILL
Total VA spending: $94.8 billion
Increase over President’s Budget: $3.29 billion
Increase over Fiscal Year 2008 levels: $4.9 billion
Veterans Health Administration: $41.4 billion
Increase over President’s budget: $1.9 billion
Increase over Fiscal Year 2008 levels: $3.9 billion
Veterans Benefits Administration: $1.441 billion
Increase over President’s budget: $70 million
Medical and Prosthetic Research: $526.8 million
Increase over President’s budget: $84.8 million
Increase over Fiscal Year 2008 levels: $46.8 million
Major Construction: $1.22 billion
Increase over President’s budget: $636 million
Increase over Fiscal Year 2008 levels: $149 million