Kirk's veterans bill clears Senate on 93-0 vote
A bill by U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) designed to funnel much-needed funding into the care for veterans cleared a critical procedural hurdle last week, setting up the potential Senate passage of a FY2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon/VA) Appropriations bill that would fund the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at a level higher than the president’s original budget request.
The Senate agreed to move forward with debate on the bill by a vote of 93-0.
“We are one step closer to putting veterans first and partisanship aside,” Kirk said. “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.”
Kirk has remained hard at work on this issue. He also 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 21-9, but was blocked by a filibuster of 44 senators this fall and has not moved forward.
Kirk’s MilCon/VA funding bill, along with the substitute amendment, would accomplish the following tasks:
• Close a loophole in the Whistleblower Protection Act so that doctors and nurses are now fully protected from retaliation under the law
• Require the VA to provide whistleblower protection information to all employees
• Increase VA funding by $6.2 billion, or 9.5 percent, compared to last fiscal year.
• Fund VA Medical Research, Veterans Benefits claims processing, and VA Office of Inspector General at president’s budget request
• Support the Illinois Army National Guard by providing $1.9 million for construction of a firing range in Sparta.
• Supply $20 million in funding for 38 additional housing units at Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island.