WASHINGTON ― U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Martin Heinrich, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined the Senate Nov. 10 in voting 93-0 for critical funding for New Mexico’s veterans and military construction projects.
The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Fiscal Year 2016 Appropriations bill funds the Department of Veterans Affairs and construction at military bases in New Mexico and across the country.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed similar legislation. Congress is under a tight Dec. 11 deadline to resolve differences between the bills and agree to a measure to fund the rest of the government.
“As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I was proud to fight for a responsible bill that provides the funding our veterans and service members deserve and that will help keep our military strong. The almost $69 million in funding for New Mexico military bases will help sustain jobs in communities across our state, and it demonstrates the commitment to and importance of New Mexico’s bases,” Udall said. “We have a proud tradition of military service in New Mexico, and our veterans made great sacrifices for this nation. This bill dedicates over $2 billion for veterans in New Mexico and across the country, and it will help the VA put an end to the veterans claims backlog and ensure veterans get the quality care and services they have earned. I have fought hard to stop the sequestration budget cuts that have been devastating for New Mexico — impacting veterans and our military readiness. This bill is a direct result of the bipartisan budget agreement I supported two weeks ago, and Congress needs to work hard over the next month to enact all remaining appropriations bills, without partisan poison pill provisions slipped in, and before government funding expires on December 11.”
“This is a balanced bipartisan bill that will help improve the quality of life for our service members, address the needs of veterans and military families, tackle the challenges facing VA, and protect our national security,” Heinrich said.”This legislation also supports construction projects at our military bases in New Mexico, builds on the progress we’ve made to reduce the VA backlog, and ensures that veterans and their families receive the benefits they’ve earned. The ability to maintain the strongest and most dedicated military force in the world depends on our nation’s ability to keep its promises to our veterans. We owe our service members more than a debt of gratitude when they return home–we owe them action in both our words and deeds.”
The bill provides a total of $79.7 billion in funding for military construction and the VA, including almost $1 billion more in funding than the president’s original budget request.
The VA is funded at $71.2 billion, and the bill directs important funding above the president’s budget request to help the VA Medical Services address urgent emerging requirements, including increased demand for hepatitis-c treatment, family caregiver support, and care in the community.
The bill fully funds the operation of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) at $2.69 billion, $163.5 million more than in fiscal year 2015, and it will help the VA make critical steps toward eliminating the veterans claims backlog.
The funding will enable the VBA to transition from paper-based claims to a digital claims process. It will also allow VA to hire an additional 770 new claims processors, including 200 new appeals adjudicators, which is key to helping the VA meet the growing appeals workload, while continuing its efforts to streamline claims processing.
The bill also provides an increase of $20 million over the president’s request for VA state extended care facility grants, bringing the total to $100 million.
In addition, the bill carves out $20 million in rural health care funding specifically for construction grants for state extended care homes in rural and highly rural areas, including New Mexico communities.
The VA’s partnership with states through the State Home programs provides a more efficient and cost-effective way to deliver long-term care to an aging veteran population — as opposed to constructing, maintaining and operating VA facilities.
Military construction is funded at $8.25 billion, which includes $37.5 million for Air Force, Air Guard and Air Force Reserve military construction projects to allow the Air Force components to fund their highest unfunded priorities.
Military construction funding for New Mexico includes:
Cannon Air Force Base:
Construction of antiterrorism/force protection (AT/FP) gate—Portales: $7.8 million
- The current Portales Entry Control Point does meet current AT/FP standards. The project is for construction on a new gatehouse, vehicle inspection station, and associated roads which meet current AT/FP criteria.
Construction of pump house and fuel storage: $20.4 million
- The current refueling facilities are located on the northwest side of runway. Aircraft require refueling from both the northwest and southeast of the runways. Refueling in this manner is too slow to support mission requirements. The project will construct new fuels storage distribution point with two above-ground fuel storage tanks, pumphouse, emergency generator, transfer pipeline and other systems needed for the project. Construction also includes remediation of fuel contaminated soil.
Special Operations Forces (SOF) squadron operations facility: $11.565 million
- Project for a multi-story operations and training facility addition. The building will support instructors and students, providing a facility to teach, and critique combat crews on special operations forces training. The facility also includes trainers for CV-22 specific training as well as night vision operations, and fire, rescue, medical, and explosive ordnance disposal
SOF ST operational training facilities: $13.146 million
- The construction project funds the building of an aquatic training center and indoor small arms firing range.
Marshalling Area Arm/De-Arm Pad D: $3 million
- Construction supports the change in mission at HAFB to an F-16 training mission. The lack of marshalling areas on the Holloman airfield for aircraft to utilize post-arming is a significant problem, which must be overcome prior to student training. Processes in place at Holloman now prevent aircraft from taking off into the White Sands Missile Range complex prior to the start of their airspace time. However, even if aircraft were allowed to take off early, there is no place for them to hold prior to entering the working airspace in many cases.
Space Vehicles Component Development Lab: $12.8 million
- This project will support space vehicles component development of space power generation, solar arrays and photovoltaic cells, space power storage, space vehicle mechanisms (launch separators and maneuvering components), mechanism controls, space protection including radiation-hardened electronics, and environmental sensors and cryocoolers. The facility should provide four light labs, two medium labs, and class 1,000 clean rooms required for space vehicle research, development, and experiments. It should also provide office space for analysis, engineering, engineering support and management personnel. It should comply with DoD antiterrorism/force protection provisions.