WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, secured several major investments for New Mexico in the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2022. The bill was reported out of the Senate Appropriations Committee today on a bipartisan vote of 25 to 5.
In total, the bill provides $124.4 billion in discretionary funding for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Activities, $11.2 billion more than fiscal year 2021 and $1.1 billion more than the President’s budget request. Additionally, the bill includes $155.4 billion in mandatory funding for VA to provide disability compensation and education benefit payments to veterans. A full summary can be found here.
“This bill takes a bipartisan approach to improve the readiness and quality of life for servicemembers in uniform, and enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to care for our nation’s veterans. The bill provides a significant increase in funding for military construction and family housing, and supports the Department of Defense to increase its energy and climate resilience. It also provides a groundbreaking investment in VA healthcare and research, and VA’s efforts to hire additional claims raters to process newly expanded benefits related to Agent Orange,” said Heinrich.
Senator Heinrich secured investments that will strengthen New Mexico’s military installations, bolster state renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, and support veterans in the state and throughout the country.
Heinrich added, “I’m also proud to secure major investments to ensure our Armed Forces based in New Mexico are equipped with the state-of-the-art technology, facilities, and resources needed to complete their missions. I also fought to secure funding to ensure that New Mexico’s veterans – especially in rural and hard to reach communities – have access to the benefits and care that they deserve.”
A list of the programs and provisions Senator Heinrich advocated for during the bill writing process can be found below:
New Mexico Military Installations
New MQ-9 Formal Training Unit Operations Facility
Chairman Heinrich secured $40 million in funding for the construction of new operations facility to support the MQ-9 Formal Training Unit assigned to Holloman Air Force Base. Holloman Air Force Base currently trains 100 percent of our nation’s MQ-9 operators, but the building that the unit uses is structurally unsound for continued operations. In 2019, the Trump administration transferred funding that had already been authorized and appropriated to fund a new MQ-9 facility to finance the costly and ineffective wall along the Southwest border. This appropriation will ensure that current and future MQ-9 operators train and work in a new and safe facility for years to come.
Space Rapid Capabilities Office
The bill includes over $5 million requested by Chairman Heinrich that will provide the necessary planning and design work to speed up the construction of a dedicated facility to house the Space Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO) on the grounds of Kirtland Air Force Base. The Space RCO is tasked with developing next-generation satellite capabilities to ensure U.S. space superiority. It’s location on Kirtland Air Force Base ensures that the organization is able to leverage the new space economy that is rapidly growing in and around Albuquerque. The Space RCO’s workload has expanded significantly over the past several years and a new, dedicated Space RCO facility will enable the organization to realize its goal of bringing new space capabilities to the U.S. military at the speed of relevance.
Wyoming Gate Project at Kirtland Air Force Base
Chairman Heinrich included $5.5 million in the bill to provide the remaining funding to complete construction of a Gate at Kirtland Air Force Base aimed at increasing security and force protection on the base. The Wyoming Gate project will help enhance Kirtland’s defense perimeter and provide increased protection for uniformed and civilian personnel carrying out critical national security missions.
192 Bed Dormitory at Cannon Air Force Base
Chairman Heinrich secured over $5 million to speed the construction of a new dormitory facility on the grounds of Cannon Air Force Base. The facility will house unaccompanied enlisted Airmen assigned to Cannon and will substantially contribute to servicemember quality of life and overall welfare. By increasing the availability of housing on base, the facility has the potential to alleviate the demand for affordable, quality housing in greater Clovis and Portales communities.
Test Facility at Holloman Air Force Base
Chairman Heinrich included $2 million in funding to speed the construction of a facility on the grounds of Holloman Air Force Base aimed at testing the next generation of radar detection technology. Accurately measuring an aircraft’s radar cross section characteristics is key to accurately measuring U.S. aircrafts’ vulnerability to enemy radar and to more readily identifying enemy aircrafts from great distances. Holloman Air Force Base hosts a key facility dedicated to this mission, but it is aging and in need of modernization. Funding in the bill will enable the Air Force to begin the planning and design work needed to begin construction on a new facility sooner than had been planned by the Department of Defense.
Deployment Processing Center at Cannon Air Force Base
The bill includes a $6 million request championed by Chairman Heinrich that will provide funding to accelerate the construction of a Deployment Processing Center on the grounds of Cannon Air Force Base. Air Force Special Operations Forces conducted worldwide deployments that both begin and end at Cannon – and state-of-the-art logistics facilities are key to ensuring servicemembers deploy quickly and safely. This deployment processing center will consolidate parachute rigging and airdrop resupply operations at one key facility on the base and will alleviate current logistics complications which have led to deployment delays in the past.
New Facilities for Pararescue Training at Kirtland Air Force Base
Chairman Heinrich secured $810,000 for planning and design funding that will enable the Air Force to accelerate the delivery of new facilities for Kirtland Air Force Base’s pararescue training school. Kirtland is a key training installation for the Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command (AETC) and is charged with ensuring a steady pipeline for qualified Airmen with advanced pararescue skills. Once fully trained, these Special Operators conduct worldwide rescue and recovery operations to ensure no servicemember is left behind enemy lines. This funding will enable AETC to speed the delivery of new facilities for the pararescue schoolhouse at Kirtland, including classrooms, dormitories and training complexes.
Support Facilities for AC-130 Formal Training Unit at Kirtland Air Force Base
The report that accompanied the MILCON/VA bill included language supported by Chairman Heinrich that requires the Air Force to develop a timeline for developing facilities requirements to stand up a new training unit at Kirtland Air Force Base. The training unit will operate the AC-130J, and will train aircrew to operate and maintain a key platform that provides air cover for servicemembers on the ground overseas. The Air Force announced Kirtland as the preferred alternative to host the AC-130 Formal Training Unit in late 2020. This language will ensure that the Air Force follows through on this basing decision which will station hundreds of servicemembers and their families at Kirtland.
High Speed Test Track at Holloman Air Force Base
The bill included a significant funding increase for infrastructure improvements at DOD service laboratories that work to research and develop next-generation technology for our military. Holloman Air Force Base hosts one such facility, a high speed test track operated by the Air Force that seeks to evaluate hypersonic technology – a key priority for the Air Force and the Department of Defense. Senator Heinrich’s support for a $75 million increase for laboratory infrastructure planning and design, along with language in the bill highlighting the importance of hypersonic technology, has the potential to provide critical improvements to the Holloman high speed test track and continue the base’s role in hypersonic testing for years to come.
New Test Support Facility at White Sands Missile Range
Chairman Heinrich included over $1 million in funding to accelerate construction of a Missile Assembly Support Facility on the grounds of White Sands Missile Range (WSMR). The facility will support one of the Army’s major modernization priorities, the ability to construct new and more accurate long-range munitions. This facility will provide a safe and secure environment for uniformed and civilian Army personnel to design and test the next generation of precise artillery.
Tactical Equipment Maintenance Facilities
Chairman Heinrich supported a $2 million increase to speed the construction of vehicle maintenance facilities for the Army National Guard. Such facilities play an important role in overall Army National Guard unit readiness. The New Mexico Army National Guard has two such facilities in need of funding for planning and design work. Maintenance is particularly critical for Army National Guard assets that are frequently older and in need of greater repair than assets used by Active Duty counterparts.
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
Microgrid Project at Kirtland Air Force Base
Chairman Heinrich secured language in the report that accompanied the MILCON/VA bill that will require the Air Force to develop a plan to develop a detailed plan to expand a microgrid project on the grounds of Kirtland Air Force Base. Last year, Chairman Heinrich worked to provide $5 million in funding to support the development of a microgrid project at Kirtland that is aimed at reducing energy loss on the base while improving energy efficiency and cyber protection. The language in the MILCON/VA report will enable the Air Force to implement the long-term planning that is necessary to increase the Kirtland microgrid’s effectiveness for years to come.
Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program
Chairman Heinrich supported a substantial $125 million increase to the Energy Resilience and Conservation Investment Program (ERCIP) above the level requested in the President’s Budget. The Department of Defense uses ERCIP to fund projects that improve energy resilience, contribute to mission assurance, save energy, and reduce the Department’s energy costs. ERCIP accomplishes these objectives through construction of new, high efficiency energy systems and technologies or through the modernization of existing systems. ERCIP is a key program to improving energy resilience and sustainability on DOD installations including those in New Mexico.
Efficient Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Technology
The report that accompanies the bill includes language supported by Chairman Heinrich that directs the Secretary of Defense to develop a plan to incorporate commercially available, energy efficient HVAC technologies that have not yet been included in the Unified Facilities Criteria, or UFC. The DOD uses the UFC to unify all technical criteria and guide specifications pertaining to planning, design, construction, and operation and maintenance of real property facilities. This language seeks to ensure the DOD uses the latest commercial technology to lower energy usage and costs to the Department.
Electric Vehicle Infrastructure
Chairman Heinrich secured language in the report that accompanied the MILCON/VA bill that will require the Department of Defense to submit a strategy and implementation plan to Congress outlining the resources and authorities needed to support a complete transition of all non-tactical vehicles to electric powered vehicles. Additionally, Chairman Heinrich supported the President’s request of $10 million in planning and design funds that would allow the Department of Defense to better understand the unique capacity and infrastructure requirements of individual installations to support an electric non-tactical vehicle fleet. This strategy implementation plan and funding would support the larger, long-term goal of transitioning federal vehicles to more efficient electric vehicles.
Energy Efficient Sensor Technology
Chairman Heinrich included language in the report that recommends that the Department of Veterans Affairs consider investing in new technologies, including batteryless sensor technology for industrial monitoring. New sensor technology has proven effective in reducing carbon emissions, reducing energy consumption and equipping operations and maintenance personnel with tools to monitor and manage their energy resources more effectively. The language is aimed reducing costs to VA and ensuring a more resilient and sustainable infrastructure at VA.
Supporting Veterans in New Mexico and throughout the United States
Chairman Heinrich championed an increase of $20 million above the President’s Budget requested level for VA’s Office of Rural Health (ORH). The ORH works to address the care needs of veterans living in rural communities across New Mexico and throughout the United States. These veterans frequently lack access to the type of medical facilities and medical care found in urban areas which may lead to disparities in health outcomes over the long term. Senator Heinrich’s $20 million increase for ORH will enable the organization to focus on ensuring veterans in rural areas of New Mexico and other parts of the country receive the care they deserve.
Transportation for Highly Rural Veterans
Of the $20 million in additional funding that Chairman Heinrich secured for VA’s ORH, up to $10 million will be allocated to a program called the Highly Rural Transportation Grant Program (HRTG). As the name implies, this program helps veterans living in rural areas travel to VA or VA-authorized health care facilities. Often, this service can make the difference for a veteran getting the life-saving treatment they need or identifying an illness in its early stages.
The bill includes $246 million for veterans homelessness assistance over and above levels provided in the previous fiscal year. VA has worked to reduce the number of veterans experiencing homelessness over the past decade. Despite marked progress, veteran homelessness remains a chronic problem. This funding increase, supported by Chairman Heinrich, increases funding for the Veterans Health Administration’s Homelessness Assistance programs, specifically services for veteran families, grant and per diem programs, and housing and urban development assistance.
Grants for State Veterans Homes
Chairman Heinrich supported $50 million in the bill to provide grants to assist States in modifying or constructing State home facilities for furnishing domiciliary or nursing home care to veterans. These State Veteran Homes are owned and operated by the States but VA assists with construction costs. Funding in this year’s bill builds on the significant amount of funding provided to State Veterans Homes through the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan.
Telehealth Lessons Learned
Chairman Heinrich secured language requiring the Veterans Health Administration to provide a briefing to Congress on efforts to increase telehealth services to veterans and their families including resources (broadband internet, personal computers, and basic computer skills training) needed to make these services more readily available. Chairman Heinrich recognizes the crucial role that telehealth has played in advancing health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic and acknowledges that such services are increasingly relevant to veterans and their families – particularly in the rural areas of New Mexico – in order to promote safe, convenient and quality medical care to all New Mexico veterans and their families.
The number of cancer screenings performed by VA decreased substantially during the global pandemic as veterans deferred routine screenings and medical checkups. Fewer routine screenings contribute to an increase in later stage cancer diagnoses and more complex cancer treatments, which require additional time for treatment planning for radiation therapy. Chairman Heinrich secured language in the report to accompany the bill that would encourage the Veterans Health Administration to return to pre-pandemic levels of routine cancer screenings.