Senate Democrats

Democrats Fighting for America’s Returning Heroes

Democrats are investing in America’s infrastructure and our military and supporting our veterans. The Senate is currently debating legislation that would provide $109.2 billion in funding for military construction and the Veterans Administration, which is approximately $4 billion more than the president requested.

Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) said on June 14:

The VA has consistently underestimated the resources necessary to meet the growing needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, resulting in dangerous budget shortfalls that have imperiled the availability of quality health care for all veterans. This Congress will not allow history to repeat itself.

The bill Senate Democrats are pushig this week sets total veterans spending at more than $87 billion – representing nearly the entire independent budget put together by Veterans Service Organizations – and is an increase of nearly $10 billion over the VA spending bill approved last year by the Republican-led Senate.

Senate Democrats have compiled a record of addressing the needs of America’s veterans:

The Senate Military Construction/VA Spending Bill Provides More for America’s Vets than the President Requested. Overall, the measure provides $109.2 billion in funding for military construction and the Veterans Administration, which is approximately $4 billion more than the President requested, with most of the additional money allocated to veterans’ programs. Of the $109.2 billion, $64.7 billion is discretionary funding. Under the Senate bill, the Veterans Affairs Department would get $87 billion, or $3.6 billion more than sought by President Bush. Military construction accounts would receive $21.6 billion, $391 million more than Bush requested and $3.6 billion more than the amount appropriated for fiscal 2007. [CQ Today, 8/31/07]

The Senate Military Construction/VA Bill Provides More for Veterans Health Care Than the President Requested. The measure provides $37.2 billion for the Veterans Health Administration, including, $29 billion for medical services for veterans. It would also provide $3.6 billion for medical administration and $4.1 billion for medical facilities. In addition, $1.3 billion was allocated for the Veterans Benefits Administration to hire at least 500 additional claims processors, and the measure provides $1 billion more than the president requested for minor construction and non-recurring maintenance of VA hospitals and clinics. Finally, the bill directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to emphasize polytrauma care and mental health services, including the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. [CQ Committee Coverage, 6/14/07]

The Senate Military Construction/VA Bill Increases Spending for National Guard and Reserve Troops Above What the President Requested. The Senate bill funds projects for the National Guard and Reserves at about $930 million or nearly $235 million above President Bush’s request. “The National Guard and Reserve have been stretched to near breaking point with continual and extended deployments. Infrastructure requests to support Guard and Reserve training and readiness have been steadily declining. Without the support of Congress, the infrastructure so vital to the preparation of U.S. Guard and Reserve forces would be in failing condition. This legislation continues to invest in the Guard and Reserve and to ensure that they are prepared to answer the call to duty, whether here at home or on battlefields around the world, said Senator Jack Reed (D-RI). [CQ Committee Coverage, 6/14/07; Office of Senator Jack Reed Press Release, 6/13/07]

Democrats Fought to Address Key Deficiencies By the Bush Administration in the Veterans Health Care System. After learning about the serious deficiencies in the Veterans’ health care system, including the much publicized troubles at the Walter Reed facility, Democrats authored the so-called “wounded warriors” measure that sought to ease the transition of wounded soldiers from the Pentagon’s health care system to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Among other items, the measure provides for the research and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and stress disorders and was later added as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. On July 24, Democrats moved the bill separately from the defense authorization bill and granted a request by Senate Republicans to add a 3.5 percent pay raise to the measure. Interestingly, the Bush Administration requested a 3 percent pay hike and said in May that it “strongly opposes” the higher pay raise, calling it “unnecessary.” [CQ Today, 7/25/07; Houston Chronicle, 7/26/07]

Iraq Supplemental Appropriations Bill Included an Additional $1.8 Billion for Veterans’ Health Care. While the President had requested $103 billion, Congress added additional spending to increase veterans’ health care programs by $1.8 billion, military construction and realignment by almost $5 billion and homeland security by more than $1 billion. [VFW Press Release, 5/25/07]

While the Bush Administration has consistently under-funded our veterans, even in a time of war:

President Bush Said There Would Be a Quick Response to Any Problems Found by Dole-Shalala Commission…. “Any report of medical neglect will be taken seriously by this administration, I’m confident by the Congress, and we will address problems quickly. I’ve asked two of America’s fine public servants, Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala, to chair a commission that will analyze our health care both at the Defense Department and at the Veterans Department, to ensure that not only our soldiers but their families have got complete confidence in the government’s upholding its responsibility to treat those who have been wounded… And I’m confident that this commission will bring forth the truth. And as I assured the chairmen, I am confident that there will be a quick response to any problems that you may find.” [Remarks by President Bush, 3/7/07]

….Unfortunately, After their Report Was Released, the White House Said President Bush Would Not Act Quickly on Dole-Shalala Recommendations. “White House press secretary Tony Snow said that Bush would not be acting immediately on any of the recommendations.” [Associated Press, 7/25/07]

VA Disclosed Personal Information of Vets and Had a $1 Billion Budget Shortfall. Other trials included the theft last summer of a VA laptop computer and external hard drive containing personal information of 26.5 million veterans, and a $1 billion budget shortfall in 2005 that prompted Nicholson to go to Capitol Hill to ask for more money.” [Washington Post, 7/18/07]

Review Finds Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Bad Shape – Beset with Mold, Leaky Roofs and Rodents. “The Veterans Affairs’ vast network of 1,400 health clinics and hospitals is beset by maintenance problems such as mold, leaking roofs and even a colony of bats, an internal review says. The investigation, ordered two weeks ago by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, is the first major review of the facilities conducted since the disclosure of squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”  [AP, 3/21/07]

Rooms in D.C. Veterans Home “Spattered with Blood, Urine, and Feces.”  “Reports of a rising death rate and rooms spattered with blood, urine and feces at the Armed Forces Retirement Home prompted the Pentagon yesterday to begin investigating conditions at the Veterans facility in Northwest Washington.” [Washington Post, 3/22/07]

VA’s Claims Backlog is about 600,000.  According to reports the [VA] had a claims backlog of roughly 600,000.” In addition, it took the VA between 127 to 177 Days, or four to five months to process benefit claims.  [AP, 3/13/07]

Administration Shelved a Program to Ensure Seriously Wounded Vets Aren’t Lost in the Bureaucracy.  “A proposal to keep seriously wounded vets from falling through the cracks of the bureaucracy was shelved in 2005 when Jim Nicholson took over as the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, according to the former VA employee who was responsible for tracking war casualties.” [ABC Transcripts, 3/7/07]