Military construction bill would bring millions to Alaska

Military spending for construction is expected to get a boost in 2010, in large part due to a $133.9 billion construction appropriations bill being supported by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski with hopes of passing the Senate before a summer recess.
If passed, the Defense Department would spend nearly $336 million in military construction on Alaska's Army and Air Force installations in fiscal year 2010, according to information from Murkowski.
The construction appropriation is part of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, recently passed by a Senate subcommittee, according to Murkowski, a member of the panel and Alaska's lone Republican senator.
The legislation now goes to the full Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration, but had not been scheduled as of July 20.
The spending bill also would provide $46 million in construction improvements for housing privatization at Fort Richardson and $52 million at Fort Wainwright.
The bill, approved by the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, also includes nearly $13.4 million in spending on Eielson Air Force Base that was not requested by the Obama administration but was included at Murkowski's request. That funding would provide $9.9 million for the completion of Arctic utilidors and $3.5 million to light an area increasingly used for military exercises.
The bill also provides funding for health care nationwide, but specifically for rural communities.
The bill clarifies that the Veterans Administration may partner with the Alaska Native Health System and community health centers to serve veterans living in rural Alaska, where there are no VA health care facilities. The provision would allow local facilities to provide medical, dental and behavioral health care.
"I am encouraged by the conversations I have had with VA Secretary (Eric) Shinseki that suggest that the VA is finally getting serious about ensuring that our veterans who live off the road system are not disenfranchised from accessing their earned veterans benefits," Murkowski said in a written statement.
As part of the appropriation, $50 million will go toward new VA community-based outpatient clinics in the nation's "rural and highly rural" communities. And for the first time, in a move widely sought by veterans' organizations, appropriators would provide $48.2 million in advance appropriations for Veterans Administration medical accounts for fiscal year 2011, both of these issues were endorsed by Murkowski according to press releases.
"This bill is great news for Alaska veterans," Murkowski said. "Our veterans have long been concerned that Congress has not funded VA health care sufficient to meet the increasing demand and that the VA appropriations bill has not been completed before the beginning of the Oct. 1 federal fiscal year. This bill sets the precedent that the VA will receive two years of health care funding each year, which has been a top priority for many veterans groups."
The House version of the bill passed July 10. Murkowski said she hoped the Senate would pass its version before the scheduled August recess.

By:  Rob Stapleton