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Bill ratifies House's commitment to veterans

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By Congressman Virgil Goode

With only a handful of dissenting votes, the House of Representatives has passed the appropriations bill that covers Military Construction and Veterans Administration spending in the coming fiscal year. I voted for the bill. However, the leadership in the House turned its back on another opportunity to allow a vote on allowing the United States to extract and produce its own oil and natural gas resources.

Prior to the final vote, many of us in the House favored including the provisions of the American Energy Act in this bill. As discussed in last week’s newsletter, passage of those provisions would have allowed for exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf and other sites in our nation. Our aim is to use the natural resources of the U. S., instead of continuing to send billions of dollars to foreign nations for our fuel needs. This drilling and production would be done in environmentally sound ways, and the fuels produced would power our economy as we continue to develop alternative forms of energy.

At the direction of the leadership, the person chairing the House at the time ruled the motion to include these provisions out of order. An appeal of the ruling was made, but it lost on a vote of 184-to-230. I voted to overturn the ruling.

The appropriations bill, itself, ratifies the House’s commitment to make American veterans our number one priority. This is done by: Increasing enrollment of Priority 8 veterans by ten percent; enabling the department to hire about 2,100 additional claims processors to work down the backlog of benefits claims and to reduce the time to process new claims; providing veterans with advanced prosthetics; and making substantial increases to mental health and substance abuse.

For active duty service members and their families, the bill provides $72.7 billion for quality of life projects that will directly improve living conditions and health care delivery. This action was taken in response to on-going comments from service members and their families that quality of life issues are their top priority. In addition, $5.6 billion is included to fund military construction and family housing in response to the President’s program to increase the size of the Army, the Marines and the National Guard and Reserve.

The Veterans Health Administration is in line to receive $40.8 billion for veterans medical care. The VA estimates that it will treat more than 5.8 million patients in 2009, including more than 333,275 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s about 40,000 more than the VA expects to treat in all of 2008.

Please keep in touch with me on issues that are important to you. You may write Congressman Virgil Goode, 70 East Court Street, Room 215, Rocky Mount, VA 24151; or fax to 1-540-484-1459; or call toll-free to the Danville office, 1-800-535-4008.