July 13, 2017

Udall Advances Key Funding for NM Military Bases, NM Veterans

Appropriations Committee approves Udall’s Rural Veterans Coordination Pilot Program extension to continue benefiting NM veterans

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator 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 $63 million in funding for projects at New Mexico’s military bases and facilities. In addition, the legislation includes a Udall-authored measure to bolster veterans’ access to care in rural areas, and provides an overall increase of $4 billion for veterans' services in New Mexico and nationwide.

“New Mexico’s military bases help keep our nation safe and serve as an essential economic engine for our state. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, which funds construction projects at our bases, I fought to secure strong infrastructure funding to support the critical national security missions carried out at New Mexico’s bases, to improve quality of life for our men and women in uniform, and to strengthen our state’s economy,” Udall said. The bill funds military construction at $9.5 billion, a $1.8 billion increase from fiscal year 2017.

“I am also proud to have advanced my initiative, an extension of the Rural Veterans Coordination Pilot Program, to enhance care for veterans living in rural New Mexico communities,” Udall continued. "Many veterans in rural New Mexico live hundreds of miles from the nearest VA hospital and, as a result, lack access to specialists, including mental health care providers. My measure strengthens programs to help ensure rural veterans get the care they are owed — increasing access to high quality medical and mental health care in rural areas, improving coordination, and empowering local communities to tailor services to best serve the needs of their veterans.”

Udall’s bill extends the Rural Veterans Coordination Pilot (RVCP) Program through September 2019. The program, originally authorized in 2010, aids veterans in rural areas through increased health care and benefits coordination, increased availability of high quality medical and mental health services, and outreach to veterans and their families. New Mexico was selected as one of only five states to participate in the initial pilot program, receiving $2 million in funding. Thus far, the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services (NMDVS) has used these funds to create five field offices and five field coordinators covering all 33 counties in the state. Today’s action is a key step in the effort to provide continued federal funding for that state effort in future years.

"This bill represents important progress to deliver on this nation's promise to our veterans — addressing staffing shortfalls to better process disability claims, supporting research, combatting veteran homelessness, and improving care for rural veterans. But anything less than the best for our veterans is unacceptable, and we must continue to push for improvements to ensure veterans receive the care and benefits that they have earned,” Udall said.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for final passage. Details of the provisions that Udall fought to include for New Mexico in the legislation are:

New Mexico Military Construction Projects

The bill funds $9.5 billion for military construction projects nationwide, an increase of $1.8 billion over FY2017, and includes more than $63 million that Udall secured for funding for critical projects in New Mexico.

Cannon Air Force Base: Combat Arms Training and Maintenance Facilities and Dangerous Cargo Pad – Udall secured $42 million to construct a dangerous cargo pad area, and new combat arms training and maintenance (CATM) facilities to include an indoor seal arms range, CATM building, and the Rod an Gun Club facility.

Cannon Air Force Base: Special Operations Forces C-130 Aircraft Ground Equipment Facility – Udall secured $8.2 million to construct an addition to and alter the General Purpose Maintenance facility for the C-130 Aircraft Ground Equipment maintenance shop.

Holloman Air Force Base: Remotely Piloted Aircraft Fixed Ground Control Station (FGCS) Facility – Udall secured $4.25 million to construct a FGCS facility to accommodate the installation of 10 new Block 50 FGCS.

New Mexico National Guard: Las Cruces Army National Guard Readiness Center Addition — Udall secured $8.6 million to construct a 34,825 square foot National Guard Readiness Center that supports training, administrative and logistic requirements for the New Mexico Army National Guard.

White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) — Udall included language in the bill to instruct the Department of Defense to outline its plan to update Major Range and Test Facility Bases, including WSMR, and to deal with deferred maintenance priorities at these facilities. At a hearing of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee in June, Udall secured a commitment from the Army to move up plans to fund construction of a new communications center at White Sands from 2023 to 2019.

Kirtland Air Force Base –In the major omnibus appropriations bill that passed the Senate in May, Udall secured strong funding for projects at Kirtland, including robust support for technology transfer, operationally responsive space, the space test program, directed energy, and the Counter-Electronics High Powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP).

Support for New Mexico’s Veterans

The bill provides $78.4 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a $4 billion increase over fiscal year 2017. The bill makes important improvements for veterans in rural areas, including a Udall-authored measure to extend the Rural Veterans Coordination Pilot Program through 2019.

Udall’s Rural Veterans Coordination Pilot (RVCP) Program Extension — The bill includes a provision based on Udall’s legislation to extend the RVCP pilot program through September 2019 (S. 903). The program, originally authorized in 2010, aids veterans in rural areas through increased health care and benefits coordination, increased availability of high quality medical and mental health services, and outreach to veterans and their families. New Mexico was selected as one of only five states to participate in the initial pilot program, receiving $2 million in funding. Thus far, the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services (NMDVS) has used these funds to create five field offices and five field coordinators covering all 33 counties in the state.

Increased Support for Rural Veterans — In addition to the RVCP extension, the bill includes an additional $20 million for the Office of Rural Health and the Rural Health Initiative. The bill also includes language to ensure that State Approving Agencies (SAAs) — which promote quality education and training programs for veterans — have sufficient resources to cover travel expenses. This is of particular concern in rural areas, where travel between inspections can be both costly and time-consuming.

Burn Pit Research and Advancements — Udall and Republican Sen. Bob Corker (R-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, including:
•Language directing the VA to continue conducting medical trials and use available treatment for conditions related to exposure to open air burn pits.
•A provision approving an additional $5 million to improve the registry according to the recommendations of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Combatting the Claims Backlog and Addressing Staff Shortfalls — The bill provides an additional $76 million over the president’s budget request for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Board of Veterans Appeals (VBA) to provide additional staffing to assist in reducing the backlog of appeals. Udall has advocated for reducing the backlog of appeals on veterans claims for several years.

Medical Services — The bill provides an additional $1.9 billion to improve the VA’s ability to provide in-home medical care to veterans and to bolster medical research.

Helping Homeless Veterans — The bill includes an additional $20 million for Supportive Services for Veterans and Families, bringing the total to $340 million to help at-risk and homeless veterans move back into stable housing.