Kirk Bill to Fund Veterans’ Care at Record Levels Clears Hurdle, Setting Up Passage Before Veterans Day

Kirk Amendment Will Increase VA Funding Above President’s Budget Request by $1.1 Billion

 

WASHINGTON, IL – A bill authored by Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to fund veterans’ care at record levels cleared a key procedural hurdle today, setting the stage for Senate passage of a fiscal year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon/VA) Appropriations bill that funds the VA above the president’s budget request by $1.1 billion.

“We are one step closer to putting veterans first and partisanship aside,” said Senator Kirk, who is chairman of the MilCon/VA Appropriations Subcommittee. “This bipartisan bill funds veterans’ care at record levels – $1.1 billion above what the president requested. With this bill it is my hope that we can confront the systemic retaliation against the medical personnel who try to protect veterans.”

Following the unanimous 93-0 vote to begin debate on the bill, Senator Kirk offered a substitute amendment to boost funding for the VA to a total of $71.2 billion, an increase of $6.2 billion or 9.5 percent over last fiscal year. 

In addition to funding veterans’ care at record levels, the bill extends whistleblower protections to VA doctors and nurses and includes serious construction reforms to prevent the VA from wasting taxpayer money on poorly managed projects. The bill passed out of the full Senate Appropriations Committee in May with a bipartisan vote of 21 to 9. An attempt to advance the bill in early October was blocked on the Senate floor in a filibuster by 44 senators. 

Senator Kirk’s MilCon/VA funding bill, along with his substitute amendment:

  • Closes a loophole in the Whistleblower Protection Act so that doctors and nurses are now fully protected from retaliation under the law
  • Requires the VA to provide whistleblower protection information to all employees
  • Increases VA funding by $6.2 billion, or 9.5%, compared to last fiscal year – which is $1.1 billion above the president’s budget request
  • Funds VA Medical Research, Veterans Benefits claims processing, and VA Office of Inspector General at president’s budget request
  • Supports the Illinois Army National Guard by providing $1.9 million for construction of a firing range in Sparta, Illinois
  • Supplies $20 million in funding for 38 additional housing units at Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island, Illinois

As chairman of the MilCon/VA Appropriations Subcommittee, Senator Kirk on Friday will chair a field hearing in Chicago about reports of mistreatment of veterans and retaliation against whistleblowers at the Edward Hines, Jr., VA Hospital near Maywood, Ill. Germaine Clarno, a social worker at Hines and president of AFGE Local 781, and Dr. Lisa Nee, a former cardiologist at Hines who experienced retaliation from VA officials after reporting a backlog of hundreds of unread echocardiogram tests and unnecessary surgeries, will testify.

Photo: U.S. Senator Mark Kirk