Washington, D.C. – Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, announced today that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $7.2 million to complete renovations of the Bangor Air National Guard Wing’s fire and rescue facility. Senator Collins raised the importance of this funding during a March 2015 subcommittee hearing with the Air Force, and advocated for it with her Appropriations colleagues.
The funding was approved during the Committee’s consideration of the 2016 Fiscal Year Military Construction and Veterans Affairs spending bill that provides resources for veterans’ benefits and programs and makes funding available for military construction projects. Senator Collins voted in favor of the bill, which was approved by a vote of 21 to 9 and now awaits final consideration by the full Senate.
“I’m pleased that this bill would fund the urgently needed fire and crash rescue improvements at the 101st Air Refueling Wing in Bangor, supporting those who put their lives on the line to protect our nation,” said Senator Collins. “This funding would facilitate the Wing’s critical missions, such as providing air refueling support to United States Strategic Command as well as logistical and support services to the airport, Bangor community, and State of Maine.”
In addition to the Bangor Air National Guard Wing project, the measure allocates funding for many programs that would benefit Maine veterans.
The bill includes $270 million in funding for the Office of Rural Health through which the Access Received Close to Home (ARCH) program is funded. ARCH ensures that rural veterans, who often have a difficult time accessing the regular VA health system, can receive care closer to where they live. Cary Memorial Hospital in Caribou is the site of one of the five ARCH pilot programs.
The bill would also extend advance appropriations for certain veterans’ benefit programs. A $63.3 billion funding allocation would go toward medical services, medical support, and compliance. For the first time ever, $104 billion would be allocated in advance for compensation and pension benefits.
For state extended care facilities, $100 million has been allocated. This would benefit the Maine Veterans Homes as they care for Maine’s veterans and their families. Senator Collins has visited Maine’s Veterans Homes throughout the state.
The bill also directs the VA to research the effects of Agent Orange and other toxic exposures to which some Maine National Guard members may have been exposed while training at Gagetown in New Brunswick, Canada. This report would ensure that veterans across the country have a full and fair accounting of the long-term health effects of such substances and the health services and benefits that they may be entitled to as a result.
Other important areas addressed in this bill include funding for veterans’ mental health care ($7.5 billion), women veterans’ health care ($446 million), and funding for services to reduce veteran homelessness ($1.4 billion).
“I believe that this responsible bill is the best possible legislation given our current budgetary guidelines which require that we make tough choices,” said Senator Collins. “We must do our best, however, to honor those who have served and sacrificed so much for their country. The programs and benefits available to our veterans are part of a commitment we must preserve.”