WASHINGTON, D.C. — Thursday, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced that the committee has advanced legislation providing strong funding for military construction projects in New Mexico and for veterans’ care across the state.
In total, Udall secured more than $125 million in funding for projects at New Mexico’s military bases and facilities.
“New Mexico’s military bases play a vital role in keeping our nation safe and driving our state’s economy. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, which funds construction projects at our military bases, I fought to secure strong funding for infrastructure projects that support the critical national security missions at New Mexico’s bases, improve quality of life for our men and women in uniform, and continue to strengthen our state’s economy,” Udall said. The bill funds military construction at $10.3 billion, a $228 million increase from FY2018. “In particular, I championed investments in major new construction projects at Holloman Air Force Base and White Sands. The $85 million for Holloman will strengthen one of its core missions to train pilots for remote aircraft, and the over $40 million at White Sands will help build a state of the art data center. And this is on top of the $50 million we previously secured for training and operations facilities at Cannon Air Force Base in 2018.”
Udall also helped secure $86.5 billion for veterans nationwide, a $5 billion increase from FY2018, that includes important funding to improve veterans’ health care in New Mexico’s rural communities, support programs to help homeless veterans find safe, quality housing, and fund research and programs to support veterans exposed to burn pits.
“I am also proud that this bill makes strong investments in New Mexico’s veterans, increasing funding for veterans’ programs by over $5 billion. This includes increases in funding rural health care programs – to expand telehealth and work to improve the dire staff shortages at VA health centers – to ensure New Mexico veterans are getting the quality care they have earned no matter where they live. The funding will also help veterans experiencing homelessness in New Mexico’s rural and Tribal communities access safe, quality housing,” Udall said. “I am also pleased the committee responded to our request and provides $5 million to continue to improve the Burn Pits Registry to ensure it is a viable tool for medical research, and includes language to increase research into rare cancers that result from exposure.”
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich welcomed the legislation: “This legislation supports our servicemembers and military families, and makes important investments in rural health care programs for veterans and our state’s military installations,” Heinrich said. “At White Sands, the Army’s $40 million project will mark the first major military construction project in direct support of testing and evaluation at WSMR in nearly 20 years. At Holloman, this new $85 million facility represents a significant investment by the Air Force that will enable Holloman Air Force Base to remain the nation’s leader in training for remotely piloted aircraft. Both of these projects show that New Mexico is making significant contributions to our national security and will continue to do so for years to come.”
Details of the provisions that Udall fought to include for New Mexico in the legislation are:
New Mexico Military Construction Projects
The bill funds $10.3 billion for military construction projects nationwide, an increase of $228 million above fiscal year 2018, and includes more than $125 million that Udall secured for funding for critical projects in New Mexico.
Holloman Air Force Base – $85 million for a Formal Training Unit (FTU) that will house three MQ-9, Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) attack squadrons. The new facility will include Fixed Ground Control Stations, training simulators, maintenance, and administrative and academic spaces. The FTU is a significant investment by the Air Force that will grow the RPA mission, train additional RPA pilots, and bring additional jobs to Holloman.
White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) – $40 million for the White Sands Information Systems Facility (ISF) to construct a new building that will house a state of the art data center for WSMR’s network and communications. The ISF will replace and consolidate several old, outdated facilities. The $40 million is only for construction of the ISF. An additional $32 million is required, and has been approved, to purchase and set up the state of the art equipment required to run the ISF.
Space Rapid Capabilities Office – Udall secured report language directing the Air Force to analyze the needs for more secure office spaces, hardware development, and testing spaces to support and expand the work of the new Space Rapid Capabilities Office and its growing national security mission and work with commercial partners. These secure compartmentalized information facilities (SCIFs) are essential for commercial companies – especially small businesses – to be able to contribute cutting edge technology to the Air Force’s space capabilities, a key mission at Kirtland Air Force Base.
Support for New Mexico’s Veterans
The bill provides $86.5 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a $5 billion increase over fiscal year 2018. The bill makes important improvements for veterans in rural areas, investing in telehealth and programs to improve hiring and retention of VA doctors and health care providers in rural clinics. The bill also rejects the administration’s dangerous attempts to move toward privatizing the VA, as insisted by Udall. The administration proposed increasing private care at the cost of VA-provided care, and consolidating the two funds to make it easier to do so in the future. Instead, the bill increases funding for VA-provided care and continues to appropriate VA medical services in a separate account.
Increased Support for Rural Veterans — $30 million to expand the VA’s telehealth programs, and the bill includes language requested by Udall to improve hiring and retention of VA health practitioners in rural area.
Burn Pit Research and Advancements — Udall and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) passed a bill in 2013 to create the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. The registry was the key first step in the process of ensuring that veterans can receive appropriate care and treatment for illnesses and conditions related to breathing fumes from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year, Udall included provisions in the appropriations bill to continue to advance care for burn pit victims, including:
A provision approving an additional $5 million to improve the registry according to the recommendations of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The bill directs the VA to collaborate with the DOD to increase research into rare cancers that often result from exposure to burn pits.
Helping Homeless Veterans — $549 million, including increases for VA and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support HUD-VASH and Tribal HUD-VASH. The Senate recently passed Udall cosponsored legislation, the Tribal HUD-VASH Act, to formally authorize a joint tribal veterans housing initiative between the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program, which provides rental and housing assistance to veterans who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness.
Veterans’ Caregivers – $861 million for the VA Caregivers Program, an increase of $365 million from FY2018.
Opioid Epidemic – $400 million for prevention and treatment programs and to strengthen VA’s Opioid Safety Initiative, an increase of $18 million above the president’s request.