WASHINGTON, D.C. – Late last night, the President signed into law a spending package that includes wins for Ohio’s servicemembers and veterans that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) helped secure.
“The funding that these bills provide will help the servicemembers and veterans who have dedicated their lives to our country,” Brown said. “These bills provide funding for the critical work being done at JSMC and Wright-Patt – who work to keep our troops safe overseas and strengthen our national security – as well as language to hold VA accountable and take action to improve the lives of veterans who have given so much for our country.”
The bill includes:
Brown has long fought to ensure Lima’s JSMC has the funding it needs to support its missions involving the Stryker vehicles and Abrams Tank.
In May, Brown toured the JSMC after leading efforts to secure investments for JSMC and fighting for its workers.
In 2018, Brown worked to secure more than $1.79 billion to protect critical manufacturing jobs at Lima’s JSMC in the FY 2019 defense appropriations bill.
In March 2017, Brown met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to highlight the importance of continued funding for the Abrams Tank and the Stryker Vehicle. In May 2017, Brown wrote to his Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committee colleagues to support inclusion of the Abrams Tank and Stryker Vehicle in both the NDAA and the Defense Appropriations bill.
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
The bill would authorize more than $1.62 billion for research and development programs run out of the Air Force Research Lab’s (AFRL) Materials, Human Effectiveness, Propulsion, Aerospace Systems, Sensors and Manufacturing Directorates at Wright-Patt. This funding is critical to addressing emerging threats and strategic challenges that our men and women in uniform face.
NASIC Military Construction Funding
This bill would also appropriate $120.9 million to support military construction efforts for Wright-Patt’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).
Last year, Brown was able to help secure more funding for NASIC construction than ever before, when the NDAA authorized $182 million for phase one and two of NASIC’s expansion. The project received an appropriation authorization of $61 million for Fiscal Year 2019 to begin construction.
Historic Brick Quarters Housing District at Wright-Patt
The bill also appropriate $35.7 million to support improvements efforts for 29 of Wright-Patt’s historic Brick Quarters Housing District units. This housing on the Wright-Patt campus is in need of rehabilitation to meet current safety standards and this funding will ensure the buildings are updated to best support those living in the historic homes on the base. The Brick Officer housing was built in 1930s and was designed in the Tudor Revival style.
Veteran Debt Fairness provision
Brown was also able to secure language in the appropriations bill that builds on his earlier work to help reduce overpayment errors by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), thereby reducing veteran debt to the Department. This legislation would require VA to submit a plan and timeline to Congress to track the cause of veteran debt. VA currently does not have a way to track individual veteran debt. The legislation also states that a delay or mistake by VA or a VA employee is considered a Department error for the purposes of tracking debt.
In March, Brown introduced the Veterans Debt Fairness Act to reduce overpayment errors and require VA to hold itself, and not veterans, accountable for its mistakes. Brown’s amendment is based on his bill and represents a first step toward full implementation.
Annually, VA sends as many as 200,000 overpayment notices totaling thousands of dollars to veterans and their families, sending them into crippling debt and withholding future benefits payments until the debt is paid. These overpayments are often a result of VA’s own accounting errors, but VA puts veterans and their families on the hook for repaying the debt.
VA benefit overpayment notices have been steadily increasing, sometimes for a payment period dating back as far as five years. Many of these debt overpayments are at no fault of the veteran or their dependents, but rather VA accounting errors and record mismanagement. Currently, VA can send out debt repayment notices to veterans requesting the full amount due within 30 days while freezing all benefit payments until the debt is repaid.
Agent Orange provision
Finally, Brown was able to secure language in the appropriations bill that would require the VA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue a report within 30 days outlining any delays in making a determination on adding conditions to the list of service-connected presumptive illnesses. They will also need to include the estimate of adding to the list, and the date the Secretary anticipates promulgating new regulations associated with adding to that list.
Brown has been leading his colleagues in urging the President to take action on behalf of thousands of Vietnam veterans across the country living with chronic health conditions, by expanding the VA’s list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange to include Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, Hypertension, and Hypothyroidism. Republicans rejected Brown’s most recent measure.