Bustos Fights for Local Veterans in Appropriations Bill

Bustos Secures Efforts to Modernize VA Process, Improve Transportation for Rural Veterans, Invest in VA Infrastructure and Staffing

Military Construction-Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill Heads to House Floor for Final Passage

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (IL-17) helped pass a strong Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) funding bill out of the powerful House Appropriations Committee that would support local veterans. This legislation will now head to the House floor for final passage.

In the package, Congresswoman Bustos successfully included support to modernize paperwork for veterans at the VA, improve transportation support for rural veterans and invest in VA infrastructure and staffing to improve veteran care. The legislation also heavily funds mental health programs, care for women veterans, homeless assistance and the Veterans Benefits Administration.

“We cannot allow barriers like tough travel obstacles, frustrating paperwork or outdated facilities to discourage even a single veteran from seeking assistance – we owe it to them to provide the best care possible for their service and sacrifice,” said Congresswoman Bustos, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. “Today’s legislation is a major investment in the resources and support our veterans need and addresses many of the concerns local veterans have expressed to me in VFW and American Legion halls across Northwest and Central Illinois.”

Congresswoman Bustos included the following priorities of local veterans:

Modernization of VA Forms:

  • The implementation of electronic forms would assist rural veterans who often have to overcome difficult travel obstacles to visit VA facilities and reduce in-person contact amid COVID-19. Last month, Congresswoman Bustos sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie requesting information on how the agency plans to modernize all forms to make them both electronically transferable and available via mobile devices. Today’s bill includes this request, which was outlined in the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) and requires the VA to make forms used by the public available in digital form.

Improve Transportation for Rural Veterans:

  • In Illinois’ 17th Congressional District, it’s not uncommon for veterans to face an hours-long drive to receive certain types of care – many must travel out-of-state to Iowa or Wisconsin. For veterans receiving services at Vet Centers, generally for mental health and readjustment services, not only do they have these barriers, but they are also unable to be reimbursed for travel to their local Vet Center.
  • In response, Congresswoman Bustos included a request on the likelihood of expanding beneficiary travel privileges for veterans receiving care from Vet Centers in rural areas. This request comes after Congresswoman Bustos recently asked VA officials about travel reimbursement directly in a hearing where they indicated support for expanding this program.

Fully Staff VA Providers:

  • VA health systems have had trouble maintaining Primary Care team staffing, which is required to support timely access to care for veterans and is especially important in rural areas where there is a lack of health care providers. A fully staffed team is important to retain providers and prevent burnout.
  • In today’s bill, Congresswoman Bustos included a requirement that would direct the VA to report the extent of how the Primary Care Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) model is being implemented. A PACT provides veterans with a team of health care professionals to coordinate care and plan for overall health and wellness.

Invest in VA Infrastructure:

  • VA research is critical to supporting innovation that improves care and life for veterans. As VA research continues to innovate, this will require adequate physical facility infrastructure to support research programs. For that reason, Congresswoman Bustos included language directing the VA to submit a report assessing research facilities as well as plans to correct any deficiencies identified.
  • Adequate support for Information Technology (IT) infrastructure to support research programs will also be required. The prioritization of research IT program requests is imperative to perform the vital research veterans need and deserve. To address this issue, Congresswoman Bustos directed the VA to submit a report analyzing and assessing research related IT allocations in relation to all VA IT allocations.

Proper Burial for All Veterans:

  • Members of our communities, and folks across the country, have expressed challenges burying unclaimed veteran remains. In response, Congresswoman Bustos co-sponsored the Burial Rights for America’s Veterans’ Efforts (BRAVE) Act which would increase the funeral and burial reimbursement rates.
  • To ensure our nation’s veterans are properly laid to rest, Congresswoman Bustos requested a report explaining what the VA has done to help alleviate some of these challenges.

The bill also heavily invests in the following areas:

  • Mental Health: $10.3 billion for mental health programs, which is $865 million above the FY 2020 enacted level and $40 million above the budget request.
  • Women Veterans: $661 million for gender-specific care for women, which is $76 million above the FY 2020 enacted level and $35 million above the request.
  • Homeless Assistance: $1.9 billion for VA homeless assistance programs, which is $81 million above the fiscal year 2020 enacted level and $40 million above the budget request.
  • Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA): The total recommended funding is $3.187 billion, which is $62 million above the FY 2020 enacted level, and $20 million below the FY 2021 budget request. This funding level is expected to fully cover claims processing, including Blue Water Navy claims.