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Congressional Update


Congress Passes Stopgap Spending Measure and VA Health Legislation

On September 27, the Senate passed a $630 billion piece measure to fund the government into the new fiscal year (FY), which began October 1. The House passed the same legislation on September 24 and President Bush signed the legislation on September 30. The bill funds the government until March 2009. Congress is scheduled to return November 17 for a lame duck session although the agenda is unclear.

The legislation, H.R. 2638, includes a continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through March 6 at FY 2008 levels, with some exceptions. Attached to the CR were the complete FY 2009 appropriations bills for Defense, Homeland Security, and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs. Other FY 2009 appropriations bills will be considered when the new 111th Congress convenes.

Regarding homeless veteran assistance provisions. the bill provides an additional $7,500,000 for Homeless Grant and Per Diem (GPD) liaisons; an additional $8,000,000 to restore the GPD program to the fully authorized level of $130,000,000; an additional $30,000,000 for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program to address any increase in the number of vouchers authorized and directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase the number of caseworkers as necessary to accommodate the increase in vouchers. The VA is directed to provide at least $5,000,000 for caseworkers if the Department of Housing and Urban Development creates a demonstration program to test methods of homeless prevention among the veteran population.

VA Health Bill Passed by Congress

On September 24 the House passed the Veterans' Mental Health Improvements Act of 2008, S. 2162, which makes various improvements to veterans’ health care and other forms of health care. The Senate passed the same legislation on September 27 and sent the bill to the White House where the President signed it on October 10 and it became Public Law No: 110-387.

Regarding homeless veterans assistance programs, the bill increases the authorization level from $130 million to $150 million for the GPD program and authorizes the VA to make financial assistance available to nonprofit organizations to facilitate their provision of supportive services to low income veterans in permanent supportive housing. The focus of this provision is to prevent veterans from becoming homeless. The bill also expands and extends through FY 2011 the incarcerated veterans transition program, which helps formerly incarcerated veterans reintegrate into society through employment counseling and other services. S. 2162 also enhances the VA’s capacity to provide domiciliary care for women veterans.

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