Washington, DC – Today, Representative Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) thanked the members of the House Appropriations Committee and her colleague in the New Jersey Congressional Delegation, Representative Bonnie Watson Colman (NJ-12), for their vote to include several of Representative Sherrill’s requests to help veterans and the military installation in the 11th district in the Fiscal Year 2020 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies bill.

“Caring for our nation’s veterans and investing in Picatinny are some of my top priorities in Congress,” said Representative Mikie Sherrill. “Veteran suicide is an avoidable tragedy, and I am committed to funding programs that provide critical mental health care to those who have risked their lives for us all. I am pleased that Congress is focused on projects to provide better security at our military installations like Picatinny.”

Representative Sherrill fought to include key programs to improve care for veterans and to help them transition to civilian life.  The Committee adopted Representative Sherrill’s call for the VA to enhance programs for women veterans, including funding medical facilities to accommodate women veterans and expanding a pilot program to inform new women veterans about the VA’s services.  Representative Sherrill also successfully secured inclusion of her request that the Army replace access control points at key facilities such as Picatinny Arsenal.

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The funding bill will now move to the House Floor as part of Congress’ effort to restore regular order for spending measures and to end the cycle of government shutdowns.

Highlights of Provisions Requested by Representative Sherrill in the Fiscal Year 2020 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies bill:

Picatinny Arsenal

The Army has a backlog of repair projects to upgrade access to military installations, particularly base gates, both to enhance security and to improve traffic flow. Replacing a base gate (or access control point) is a military construction project that can last several years and includes multiple discrete components, such as a visitor control center, gatehouses, canopy areas, guard booths, barriers, and cybersecurity and surveillance systems. The Army requires $24 million to replace the access control point at Picatinny Arsenal.  At the request of Representative Sherrill, the funding bill directs the Army to review the backlog of existing access control point construction projects to determine which can be accomplished sooner through smaller, incremental components within the minor military construction account to enhance installation security and achieve U.S. Army Corps of Engineers standards.  This review will expedite projects, such as replacing the access control point at Picatinny Arsenal, to ensure it meets the highest security standards to keep our military and civilian workforce safe.

Women Veterans Services

Women are the fastest growing population within the veteran community, yet women veterans do not connect with VA services until an average of 2.7 years after separating from the military. The funding bill both directs the VA to report on specific measures to track and prioritize both the physical and cultural transformation within VA medical facilities to better serve women Veterans. It supports the expansion of the Veterans Affairs Women’s Health Transition Training Pilot Program and similar programs to help increasing numbers of women veterans enter the Veterans Affairs support system and adjust to life after the military. On March 22, 2019, Representative Sherrill wrote to VA Secretary Wilkie urging him to implement specific measures to track and prioritize both the cultural and physical transformation within Department of Veterans’ Affairs medical facilities to equitably serve women veterans. Her letter can be found here.

Veterans Suicide Prevention

The Fiscal Year 2020 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies bill provides $30 million above the president’s request for veterans’ mental health programs.  These additional funds will enable the Department to implement suicide safety plans that address parking lot suicides and expand the Coaching Into Care Program to better help Veterans, their family members, and other loved ones find the appropriate services at their local VA facilities and in their community.

$1.5 billion of the funds this bill provides will go towards suicide prevention and treatment, and $222 million is specifically dedicated to suicide prevention outreach.  The funding bill encourages the VA to support peer-to-peer Veterans suicide prevention programs and ensure the Veterans Crisis Line is staffed by trained professionals that adhere to all requirements of the American Association of Suicidology.

Burn Pits Exposure Research

The funding bill directed an additional $5 million toward the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pits Center of Excellence to help study the toxic effects of exposure to burn pits while servicemembers were deployed.

The House Appropriations Committee Report on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies bill can be found here.