Editor’s Note: In addition to funding of military construction projects and veterans’ care, please see the additive manufacturing language that Senator Udall included in this year’s appropriations bill that just passed out of the appropriations committee.
By Tom Udall Press Team
WASHINGTON – April 14, 2016 – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall joined the Senate Appropriations Committee to approve legislation to fund important military construction projects and veterans’ care in New Mexico and across the country. Udall worked to secure $38.9 million in funding for projects at Cannon, Kirtland and Holloman Air Force bases. The bill also includes a significant $3.4 billion increase to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which will help improve care for veterans throughout New Mexico and nationwide.
“New Mexico’s Air Force bases are critical to our national security mission, and these three projects will provide important improvements at Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon,” Udall said. “This bill also makes good progress at reducing the VA claims backlog and at improving care for our veterans living in rural communities. Many veterans in rural New Mexico live hundreds of miles from the nearest VA hospital and so lack access to specialists, including mental health care providers. We must work to strengthen programs that will help ensure rural veterans can get the care they have earned — for example, tele-medicine and transportation services can help connect veterans with doctors and specialists. And hiring incentives and other programs can help reduce turnover at rural VA clinics. So I will keep pushing for improvements.”
The bill funds military construction at $7.93 billion, supporting 210 projects nationwide and other underfunded priorities requested by the military. Udall and Sen. Martin Heinrich also included a provision directing the Department of Defense (DOD) to outline its plan to address construction needs at test facilities, including White Sands Missile Range, which has a significant maintenance backlog due in part to sequestration budget cuts over the past several years.
“New Mexico plays a critical role in our national security and defense, and is consistently at the forefront of research and development that contribute immensely to our country’s safety,” Heinrich said. “This legislation supports our servicemembers and military families and makes investments in our state’s military installations, which also contribute to our state’s economy. This legislation also funds important tele-medicine and behavioral health programs to ensure our veterans receive the benefits and health care services they have earned. I thank Senator Udall for working to pass this critical bill for our veterans and military families.”
Military construction funding for New Mexico includes:
Cannon Air Force Base North Fitness Center – $21 million for the project, which will enhance combat readiness by supporting the unit commanders’ fitness program and provide recreation opportunities for base personnel. The existing fitness center was designed for half the population now stationed at Cannon and does not meet current training needs.
Holloman Air Force Base Hazardous Cargo Pad and Taxiway – $10.6 million to construct a new hazardous cargo pad and taxiway for aircraft transporting explosives and other dangerous material. Currently, the base must close other runways when transporting hazardous material, resulting in single-runway operations. The project also includes storm drainage, rerouting of existing utilities, paved shoulders, an aircraft grounding system and aircraft tie-down points.
Kirtland Air Force Base Combat Rescue Helicopter Simulator – $7.3 million to build a facility to house a HH-60W flight simulator, which is necessary to train combat rescue helicopter personnel. The simulators are scheduled to be delivered, and Kirtland does not currently have the space required to install them.
VA programs and funding for New Mexico and nationally:
The bill provides $74.9 billion for the VA, including a $1 billion increase for medical services and increases for care geared toward women and homeless veterans. It also creates a new Medical Community Care account to streamline care for veterans outside the VA system, especially rural veterans who live far from clinics. Udall has led efforts to close the backlog of veterans’ disability claims, and worked to include an increase of $148 million to expedite processing by hiring additional staff.
Additional provisions authored by Udall and supported by Heinrich include:
Burn Pit research and advancements: Udall and Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) passed a bill that was signed into law in January 2013 to create the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. The registry was the 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. One requires the VA to report on progress with medical trials. A second directs the VA to increase outreach to veterans and state governments to communicate the existence and purpose of the Burn Pit Registry. The provision further directs the VA to address confusion among veterans about registries that have been created on the state level and clarify that the national registry is the VA’s official registry.
Rural veterans: Udall and Heinrich worked to include language to reduce high turnover at rural VA clinics. The provision directs the VA to report on its recruitment and retention initiatives for health care providers in rural and highly rural areas, particularly expansion of the Locality Pay System to ensure health care professionals receive competitive pay, and other recruitment and retention tools — including the Education Debt Reduction Program and the Employee Incentive Scholarship Program. It also encourages the VA to hire more mental health providers in rural areas.
3D Printing: A provision authored by Udall encourages the VA to expand its use of cutting-edge three-dimensional printing technology, which holds significant potential to advance treatment for veterans who have lost limbs, sustained organ damage, require coronary surgery or who have lost their hearing. 3-D printing also has the potential to increase capabilities at VA medical centers without the ability to manufacture prosthetics and other medical devices, and the amendment calls for the VA to invest in 3-D printing at those facilities.
Top image courtesy of Senator Tom Udall Press Team
Source: Tom Udall Press Team