Senate Passes VA, Milcon Spending Bill:

The Senate voted 92-1 last week to approve the 2008 military construction and veterans’ affairs appropriations act (H.R. 2642) at $109.3 billion, which is about $4 billion more than the President’s request. The House Appropriations Committee report says the measure provides an “unprecedented increase” for the VA, specifically to reduce the agency’s claims processing backlog and the length of time it takes to process an initial claim. For one thing, it adds money to hire a thousand new claims processors. The Milcon portion gets some $21.4 billion, an increase over the President’s request of around $230 million, most of which goes to fund BRAC actions and accommodate the growth in ground forces. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), appropriations chairman, said that VA has “consistently underestimated the resources necessary to meet the growing needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. … This Congress will not allow history to repeat itself.”