Senator Collins Urges Colleagues to Pass Vital Bipartisan Funding Bill and Honor Commitment to Veterans

Senator Collins Speaks from Senate Floor on Importance of Passing Appropriations Bill

  WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, spoke from the Senate floor this morning to urge her colleagues to support the Fiscal Year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act. The bipartisan bill would fund critical programs that support our nation’s servicemembers and veterans.
 
      From the Senate floor, Senator Collins stated, “We owe it to our nation’s veterans, 127,000 of whom reside in the great state of Maine. There are more than 21 million nationwide. We owe it to them to move forward with this important bill. These veterans answered the call to duty. They shouldered the hardships and sacrifices of military service. They have done their jobs. It is time that the Senate does its job. We must fulfill our obligations and affirm a larger commitment made long ago to take care of those who have so proudly served our nation, the patriots who have worn our nation’s uniform.”
 
      In her remarks, Senator Collins highlighted the importance of the bill’s $270 million investment in the Access Received Close to Home (ARCH) program to veterans who live in rural communities. ARCH ensures that such veterans, who often have a difficult time accessing the regular VA health system, can receive care closer to where they live.
 
      “This program has made such a difference to our veterans. I remember one of our veterans telling me about breaking his hip last winter in the height of a terrible winter storm. Instead of enduring a painful and bumpy ride for more than four hours to get to the VA hospital in Augusta, he was able through the ARCH program to receive the care at his local hospital, Cary Memorial in Caribou, Maine. He also had the benefit of being able to receive care closer to where his family and friends are,” Senator Collins stated from the floor.
 
      Senator Collins also underscored the bill’s critical funding for services aimed at addressing veteran homelessness, an issue that Senator Collins has focused on as Chairman of the Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee.
 
      In addition, the measure would also provide funding for many services and programs that would benefit veterans and servicemembers in Maine and across our country, including: Veterans’ benefits, critical mental health care services, women Veterans’ healthcare, and military housing.
 
      In May of this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee passed this legislation with a strong, bipartisan vote of 21 to 9.  In July of this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported the last of the annual 12 bills that appropriate funding for our government.  This was the first time that all 12 of the appropriations bills have been approved by committee, in plenty of time for the Senate to debate, amend, and pass them since 2009.
 

Full transcript of Senator Collins’ remarks below:
 
      Mr. President, I rise today to urge my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to support the Fiscal Year 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill. 
 
      Yesterday, Congress sent to the President a continuing resolution, a bill, to prevent a government shutdown.  This was necessary to ensure that vital resources and services that the American people depend on do not lapse and in order to avoid harm to jobs and our economy.   But as my colleagues fully realize, simply putting government on autopilot through a continuing resolution is not the responsible way to fund government.  It locks in last year’s priorities, delays the start of vital programs, and allows unneeded programs to continue to be funded.  We must pass the 12 annual appropriations bills.
 
      In July of this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which I am privileged to serve, reported the last of the 12 bills.  This was the first time that all 12 of the appropriations bills have been approved by the committee in plenty of time for the Senate to act, since 2009. 
 
      It’s past time for the Senate to take up and pass these funding bills, so that we can go to conference with our House colleagues and send to the President annual funding bills that reflect our current priorities that benefit the American people.
 
      In May Mr. President, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill by a strong, bipartisan vote of 21 to 9. 
 
      As a member of the Subcommittee with jurisdiction over this bill, I know that this represented bipartisan consensus and hard work. It reflected the leadership of Chairman Kirk and Ranking Member Tester.   This bill provides vital resources for our veterans and our servicemembers. We are operating under very challenging budget constraints, and I support the negotiations that are going on now but it is long past time for the Senate to debate, amend, and pass each of these appropriations bills.  We have the opportunity to do just that now, and I do not understand those who argue that we should not proceed with the normal appropriations process. Those who disagree with provisions in this bill will have the opportunity to offer amendments to change the bill, but to not even allow this vital funding bill for our military, for our veterans, to come to the Senate floor, is an argument that I do not accept nor understand.
 
     We owe it to our nation’s veterans, 127,000 of whom reside in the great State of Maine. There are more than 21 million nationwide, we owe it to them to move forward with this important bill.  These veterans answered the call to duty.  They shouldered the hardships and sacrifices of military service. 
 
      They have done their jobs.  It is time that the Senate does its job.  We must fulfill our obligations and affirm a larger commitment made long ago to take care of those who have so proudly served our nation, the patriots who have worn our nation’s uniform.
 
      To highlight a few examples of why this bill is so important:  it ensures that our veterans have access to critical mental health care services, it aims to reduce veterans' homelessness, a very important issue to me that I have worked on with Senator Jack Reed as a member of the HUD and Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee which is another bill we need to bring to the Senate floor. This bill provides funding to pay veterans’ benefits, and includes $270 million for the Office of Rural Health, important to the presiding officer as well as to my state. This office has established the program called the ARCH program, Access Received Closer to Home. ARCH ensures that rural veterans in pilot states, who often have a difficult time accessing the regular VA health system, can receive care closer to where they live. This has been a tremendous success in northern Maine which has one of the pilot programs in Caribou, Maine in conjunction with Cary Memorial Hospital. This has made such a difference for our veterans.
 
      I remember one of our veterans telling me about breaking his hip last winter in the height of a terrible winter storm. Instead of enduring a painful and bumpy for more than four hours to get to the VA hospital in Augusta, he was able, through the ARCH program, to receive the care at his local hospital, Cary Memorial in Caribou, Maine. He also had the benefit of being able to receive care closer to where his family and friends were.
 
      The programs I just mentioned, like so many that are contained within the Military, Construction, VA appropriations bill, are essential to ensuring that veterans who have placed their lives on the line for our continued safety receive the benefits that they have earned. 
 
      This bill is essential to providing updated military housing and other construction upon which those who are serving today depend. It is simply irresponsible for us not to proceed with consideration of this and every other appropriations bill. They’re ready, they’ve been reported by committee. Let’s do our job. We must do our best to honor those serve and who have served and who sacrifice so much for our country. Surely, the Senate should do its part, we should do our part by promptly passing this important bill.
 
      Thank you, Mr. President.