6:26 PM EDT

Mark Foley, R-FL 16th

Mr. FOLEY. Mr. Chairman, as my colleagues know, the veterans benefits claim process in this country is a disaster. This disaster is not the fault of the dedicated employees of the VA or Mr. Anthony Principi, the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, but rather the bulk of the blame lies with the years of neglect and lack of planning AND foresight.

When a typical veteran in my State has to wait an average of 171 days to get a response to a claim, no one can doubt that we have a serious problem. Would any of us expect to wait 171 days after filing a medical claim with our insurer before actually getting the check in the mail? No one would. No American would wait. Yet this is exactly what our national veterans have to face every time they file a benefit claim with the Veterans Administration.

What is worse is that, according to the administration's own budget, that 170-day wait may well exceed 270 days this year. That 100-day increase in the claims turnaround time is estimated by the administration even after the good chairman, the gentleman from New York (Mr. WALSH), has increased by a $128 million earmark in this bill to alleviate that problem. In fact, recently, in our supplemental bill, and I commend the gentleman from New York for aggressively pursuing this problem, he

provided another $19 million. So we are making progress.

But let no one be mistaken, this is a crisis. Veterans in my State and across the country sometimes die before their health or other benefit claims can be processed.

[Time: 18:30]

These claims stem from veterans who feel they have been unjustly denied the benefits they are entitled to and deserve. For example, my State of Florida has only one processing facility currently operating with a 24,000 case backlog. The second largest State in the Union with veterans residing in the State and only one processing facility.

My amendment will add $25 million to the VA general operating expense account for the express purpose of hiring and training additional claims processors. The increase would be offset by a similar amount from the National Science Foundation's $3.6 billion research account which the VA-HUD appropriations bill, and I will add, has generously increased over last year's level by $292 million.

The amendment is not aimed at lessening the good that the National Science Foundation does. But our rules require offsets, and this becomes a matter of priorities.

The Foley amendment uses the NSF's polar and antarctic research accounts as an offset. The base bill recommends $3.6 billion for National Science Foundation research next year, an increase of over $300 million. Taking $25 million from the NSF's already increased account is far less significant than the additional claims processors that the VA could hire with this additional funding.

This is a meaningful amendment which will make a significant dent in the turnaround time for claims processing. This is a nationwide problem, one that Secretary Principi and I have talked about. He has personally stated this is his primary goal of fixing as new head of the VA. Let us give him the funding he needs.

The amendment is about priorities. One of the highest priorities should be taking care of those who fought the wars for us. Yes, these are interesting times, and these are aggressive bills which I believe seek to solve a lot of our country's problems. But at a time when our Vietnam vets and Korean vets and World War II vets and Desert Storm vets are being told to wait, we are increasing by $300 million monies in accounts that probably could take a little bit of a reduction in order to satisfy

and help those who have sacrificed.

Again, focus on where the amount of money comes from, the NSF's polar and antarctic research accounts as offsets.

I again thank the chairman and I do want to underscore the fact that his committee and his chairmanship has brought a lot of great benefits to veterans. I know help is on the way in a number of these other areas, but I would urge Congress to accept my amendment.

6:31 PM EDT

James T. Walsh, R-NY 25th

Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word. [Page: H4692]

Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment. I would remind my good friend and colleague from Florida that we are spending over $51 billion in the veterans' accounts this year. The entire science budget for the National Science Foundation is under $5 billion. That is a ten to one ratio. Obviously, one can see where our priorities are. They are on our veterans, on providing for their benefits, on providing for their health care, on providing for the administration that is a very important

and significant portion of the Federal budget.

Fifty billion for veterans, less than 5 billion for research. We all know how important research is to the future of all Americans, including our veterans. Make no mistake about it, the investment that we are making in the National Science Foundation will resound also to the veterans as it will with all members of the American society. Besides, we have already increased this account by almost $146 million, the President's request.

For the benefits administration alone we provided just under $1 billion, $955 million. We funded this bill at the President's request which was an increase of $129 million over last year; $148 million if we consider the supplemental funding we passed last week.

We have fully funded the VA's plan to hire 400 claims processors, continuing our commitment to improve the claims situation as we provided funds for 400 new claims processors just last year.

This is Secretary Principi's highest priority. He is focused on this. He is asking for resources. He has a plan. Let us let him implement that plan.

The VA cannot hire more people at this point. More money will not translate to more people. The budget request for NSF's request by the President was barely a 1 percent increase. We are doubling the National Institutes of Health. It does not make sense to double the National Institutes of Health without making dramatic increases also in the National Science Foundation. It is the basic science, the math, the physics that makes all of this possible, all of this research possible.

So we needed to make that increase, and we did. The subcommittee stepped up to the plate and provided a 9 percent increase. The amendment of the gentleman from Florida (Mr. FOLEY) would cut nearly one-third of our increase out of that budget, a situation which I believe is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

The Nation's economy depends on the research conducted through NSF. I strongly oppose this amendment. These funds coming out of NSF will hurt the veteran just as much as if we cut them out of their own budget.

6:34 PM EDT

Alan B. Mollohan, D-WV 1st

Mr. MOLLOHAN. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.

Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment. The bad news is the gentleman states the problem correctly, that there are large delays waiting for these medical claims to be processed, to be considered. The good news, however, is that the chairman addressed the issue in this bill. It is contained in this bill.

The gentleman said let us give the Secretary the funding he needs. Well, the chairman gave him the funding he asked for, which I assume is the funding he needs. The President's request was fully funded at $146 million, a $146 million increase.

I think the gentleman should be pleased with the treatment of this problem in the bill, and it is being addressed aggressively last year with an increase of 400 new employees on task and 400 will be added as a result of this bill.

The offset the gentleman proposes is absolutely terrible. We have been working very hard during the last several years to increase NSF's funding. The gentleman takes it from the NSF increase and, by my computations, he is taking $92 million, which is about a third of the increase that we are providing for NSF.

So, on the one hand, I think the gentleman raises a legitimate concern. It is being addressed in the bill, however; and he should be pleased with that. On the other hand, where he is taking the money it is particularly difficult because that is an account that we are trying to increase. It is very meritorious to increase, and the cut he takes from that is really a horrendous cut that would be taken to NSF.

Mr. Chairman, I urge opposition to the amendment.

6:36 PM EDT

Vernon J. Ehlers, R-MI 3rd

Mr. EHLERS. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the requisite number of words.

Mr. Chairman, I rise with some reluctance to oppose this amendment, and the reluctance is that it is offered by my good friend the gentleman from Florida (Mr. FOLEY). The gentleman is engaged in a noble cause, but I will oppose it precisely for the reason that has been specified before this evening: This amendment would decimate the National Science Foundation's budget, particularly in the area of polar research and the Antarctic.

We discussed just a few moments ago the work of the National Science Foundation and how necessary it is to fund it at a level to keep pace with the funding at the National Institutes of Health, because so much of the work at the NSF is related to the work of the NIH in its battle to fight various diseases such as cancer, diabetes and the many other diseases that they are engaged in fighting.

In addition, the National Science Foundation is engaged in many other areas of research. In regard to the polar and Antarctic research which the gentleman from Florida seeks to cut, it is a unique research program that tackles many problems which cannot be tackled anywhere else in the world. For example, these research funds resulted in the first discovery of the ozone hole, which alerted our whole planet to the need to do something about chlorofluorocarbons and led to measures in both industry

and government to end our very large use of chlorofluorocarbons; as a result we are beginning to see a shrinking of the ozone hole.

In addition, because of the unique position at the pole, this is an ideal spot for astronomy. From that position many stars can be viewed that cannot be seen well from other areas of our planet.

The amount that the gentleman is proposing to take out of this research budget is approximately one-third of the budget allocated for that work. That is a severe cut. We discussed earlier the small amount of the increase in the NSF budget compared to the NIH budget and discussed the need to seek a doubling of the NSF budget. We are not even close to doing that this year.

If we take even more money out, it would be a serious blow to the budget of the NSF and to the scientific work that is carried out at the National Science Foundation. All of us value that research and benefit from it very, very directly. If I had the time, I could spend an hour pointing out all of the benefits derived from the funds spent on the basic research done by the National Science Foundation.

For these reasons, I urge that we vote ``no'' on this particular amendment. I urge even more strongly that the sponsor withdraw the amendment. I think his effort to help veterans is noble, but his funding proposal would cause inestimable damage to the National Science Foundation.

Mr. Chairman, I urge the gentleman from Florida to withdraw his amendment so we do not engage in a vote which could be detrimental to the National Science Foundation.

6:40 PM EDT

Ruben Hinojosa, D-TX 15th

Mr. HINOJOSA. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to engage my friend, the gentleman from New York (Mr. WALSH), in a colloquy regarding funding for Hispanic-Serving Institutions, known as HSI's, under the National Science Foundation Education and Human Resources Program.

There are over 200 HSI's throughout this country that are enrolling an ever-increasing number of Hispanic college students. Hispanics are now the second largest minority in the United States. Many of these students are the first generation Americans in their family to attend colleges or universities. We need to encourage them to complete their education and to enter fields like math, science and engineering, where our country is experiencing a severe shortage.

The National Science Foundation is charged with the responsibility of improving math, science and engineering education across the country. To do this, NSF provides several competitive grant programs for which schools can apply to train teachers, students and improve the quality of their math, science, engineering and technology programs. Past authorization language has required the NSF to target under-represented populations. However, to date, Hispanic-Serving Institutions have received less

than 2 percent of the grant funding available.

Mr. Chairman, does the appropriations subcommittee chairman agree that the NSF should be targeting under-represented populations such as the HSIs?

6:41 PM EDT

Ruben Hinojosa, D-TX 15th

Mr. HINOJOSA. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to engage my friend, the gentleman from New York (Mr. WALSH), in a colloquy regarding funding for Hispanic-Serving Institutions, known as HSI's, under the National Science Foundation Education and Human Resources Program.

There are over 200 HSI's throughout this country that are enrolling an ever-increasing number of Hispanic college students. Hispanics are now the second largest minority in the United States. Many of these students are the first generation Americans in their family to attend colleges or universities. We need to encourage them to complete their education and to enter fields like math, science and engineering, where our country is experiencing a severe shortage.

The National Science Foundation is charged with the responsibility of improving math, science and engineering education across the country. To do this, NSF provides several competitive grant programs for which schools can apply to train teachers, students and improve the quality of their math, science, engineering and technology programs. Past authorization language has required the NSF to target under-represented populations. However, to date, Hispanic-Serving Institutions have received less

than 2 percent of the grant funding available.

Mr. Chairman, does the appropriations subcommittee chairman agree that the NSF should be targeting under-represented populations such as the HSIs?

6:42 PM EDT

James T. Walsh, R-NY 25th

Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, first, let me thank the gentleman from Texas for bringing up this important issue.

As the gentleman knows, we have made every effort to increase the budget for the National Science Foundation to the highest level possible and spread those funds as broadly as possible among programs throughout the Foundation. In this context, the subcommittee has placed great emphasis on providing additional dollars for several programs emphasizing math, science and engineering education.

Generally speaking, we in the Foundation should do all that can be done to promote these programs at all educational institutions, but I certainly agree with the gentleman that a special effort should be made to target minority-serving institutions and in particular Hispanic-Serving Institutions for enhancement of these important programs.

6:43 PM EDT

Ruben Hinojosa, D-TX 15th

Mr. HINOJOSA. Will the chairman work with me and the leadership of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to develop report language urging the National Science Foundation to do more aggressive outreach and grant solicitation amongst HSIs so that more of them can improve their math and science programs to better educate Hispanic students?

6:44 PM EDT

James T. Walsh, R-NY 25th

Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, I will be glad to work with the gentleman from Texas and his Congressional Hispanic Caucus to find ways to make the grant programs funded under this bill more accessible to HSI's and to encourage the National Science Foundation to work to increase the number of HSI's participating in its grant programs.

6:50 PM EDT

Sherwood L. Boehlert, R-NY 23rd

Mr. BOEHLERT. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

Mr. Chairman, I wish to identify with the remarks of my colleague who just spoke, the distinguished chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, [Page: H4695]

and I wish to address the House in two capacities: one, as a friend of the veterans, as a veteran myself; and, two, in relationship to the amendment previously discussed by the gentleman from Florida (Mr. FOLEY).

The fact of the matter is I know of no better friends for the veterans of America than the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. SMITH) and the gentleman from New York (Mr. WALSH). They both have very important roles to play, the gentleman from New Jersey as chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the gentleman from New York, who is where the rubber meets the road, on the Committee on Appropriations.

We can do all the authorizing in the world, but it does not mean much unless you follow up with appropriations. The gentleman from New York, to his credit, time after time has been there for the veterans, time after time has put more money in the budget to address very real problems that must be solved if we are to fulfill our commitments to the men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States military.

I am very much aware of the delays in solving the claims processing crisis. Indeed it is a crisis. On several occasions I have spoken to the gentleman from New York about this. Others have, too. We have always received the same answer: ``We will be there when we are needed. Don't just judge us by our words. Judge us by our deeds.'' This budget includes $128 million, an 11 percent increase, for the Veterans Administration to address the claims processing problem. That deserves our praise and support.

Now, we can always do more, but the fact of the matter is we are doing more than what is adequate to address a very real, legitimate problem. But to suggest that we take from another very sensitive area, and this is where I put on my second hat, as chairman of the Committee on Science, to suggest that we take money away from the National Science Foundation, which even Ronald Reagan, in my early years on the Hill, wanted to double funding for over a 5-year period, because he was wise then and

we are wise now; and the gentleman from New York (Mr. WALSH) is evidencing the wisdom of the Congress in providing additional funds for the National Science Foundation.

I do not need to remind my colleagues that we have been through a decade of unprecedented growth, quarter after quarter, year after year, growth in our economy. It is a little bit soft right now, a little bit shaky. People are concerned. I would suggest to my colleagues in the House that the way to continue to move forward, to make sure this economy keeps percolating is, one, to do what we have already done, cut taxes to get money back into the pockets of the American taxpayer, and so that they

can help keep this economy humming, but secondly to invest in appropriate science, to invest in the basic research that is so essential for the continued prosperity in America. We did not get where we have been these past 10 years, quarter after quarter year after year of growth

because we just wished for better things to happen. We got there because we invested in science, and science has rewarded us with unprecedented developments. The whole Internet economy, the whole telecommunications industry growth, these are things that are products of science.

So I would suggest that to acquire $25 million more for something that is already being addressed in a very substantial way, $128 million more in the Walsh bill, but to get that additional $25 million by taking $92 million and, boy, talk about fuzzy math, it is tough to understand and explain in this short time how that comes about, but to take $92 million away from the National Science Foundation is just not the thing to do. We can do what we should do in a responsible way, continuing to provide

more funding for the National Science Foundation and do what the gentleman from New York (Mr. WALSH) is proposing, more funding, $128 million more to solve a very real problem, that is, the backlog in the claims processing for the men and women who have served our Nation so nobly.

I want to thank the gentleman from New York for his leadership. I want to thank the gentleman from New Jersey, the chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, for what he is continuing to do, to make certain everyone clearly understands that our veterans are uppermost in our minds. We have an obligation. We have a commitment. We are going to meet it.

6:55 PM EDT

Jerry Moran, R-KS 1st

Mr. MORAN of Kansas. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

Mr. Chairman, I would like to join my colleague from New Jersey, my chairman. I chair the Subcommittee on Health for the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. I too would like to commend the gentleman from New York and the ranking member of this committee for their support of veterans issues and particularly for improving the access veterans can have to health care across the country.

But I would also like to come here this afternoon and thank my chairman for working on another issue and it is one that is very important to a community of mine back home, Hutchinson, Kansas. Hutchinson is a community of just over 40,000 people. On January 17 of this year, the city experienced a series of explosions caused by natural gas that leaked into abandoned salt mines that migrated under the community. People in Hutchinson woke up that day to headlines and photographs demonstrating a major

occurrence had occurred in this small town. Explosions rocked the community for the next 2 days, and fires continued to burn for the next 5 months. The explosions leveled two downtown buildings, destroyed homes, hundreds of people were forced to relocate, move their home and businesses, and tragically two people died as a result of injuries sustained from this occurrence.

Just 2 weeks ago, another gas explosion occurred causing more damage to the community, both physically and emotionally. Hutchinson has a long history of salt production, resulting in hundreds of abandoned mines underneath the city and the surrounding region. In order to ensure that no natural gas further escapes and ignition occurs from these mines, each must be located and properly capped to ensure safety.

Addressing this situation is vitally important to this community and its future. It is an important priority for our country. Even President Bush mentioned in his energy strategy this tragedy. I have requested assistance from the chairman. This is the first time I have come to the gentleman from New York asking for assistance in this manner. I was anticipating being intimidated by the gentleman. He met me with sympathy and empathy. I am very grateful for that kind of response. I appreciate the

gentleman indicating his willingness to assist and provide support as this bill goes to a House-Senate conference.

6:58 PM EDT

James T. Walsh, R-NY 25th

Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, just to briefly respond to the gentleman, I thank him for bringing this issue to my attention and to the attention of the committee. This catastrophic loss that occurred to his community, this devastating incident, seriously undermines public safety and economic activity in this city and the region. I know his concern is heartfelt. He has pressed this case before us. I will continue to work with the gentleman from Kansas during the conference to see what assistance we

can provide to Hutchinson, Kansas. I thank him for his hard work on behalf of his community.

6:59 PM EDT

John W. Olver, D-MA 1st

Mr. OLVER. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word to engage in a colloquy with the gentleman from New York, the distinguished chairman of the Subcommittee on VA, HUD and Independent Agencies.

[Time: 19:00]

Mr. Chairman, to address the serious shortage of suitable housing for frail, low-income seniors, the fiscal year 2000 VA-HUD bill included authorizing language to provide a pilot program for up to three grants for the conversion of unused or underutilized commercial property into assisted living facilities for the elderly. Unfortunately, in that year the appropriation language did not allow HUD to issue a NOFA to implement the authorizing language.

In fiscal year 2001, the necessary appropriation language was included in the VA-HUD bill, and $7.5 million of Section 202 funds were made available to provide for the pilot program of [Page: H4696]

grants for the conversion of unused or underutilized commercial property into assisted living facilities. Yet, upon issuance of the NOFA, HUD rejected all applications for these grants.

Mr. Chairman, the bill before us today has again appropriated funds for the conversion of eligible assisted living projects. I am concerned that HUD will continue to ignore congressional mandates on this issue, and I would ask the chairman if he would work with me in conference to correct this problem so that we can expedite the previously authorized pilot program for the conversion of unused or underutilized commercial property into assisted living facilities for the elderly.

7:01 PM EDT

James T. Walsh, R-NY 25th

Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for bringing this issue to our attention and for the amount of energy and thought he has put into this. We have discussed this at length, and I would be happy to work with the gentleman as the bill moves forward to address the issue prior to conference.

7:01 PM EDT

Chris Smith, R-NJ 4th

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Chairman, I move to strike the last word.

Mr. Chairman, I rise to engage in a colloquy with the distinguished chairman of the subcommittee. I want to commend the gentleman for the robust increases he has included in H.R. 2660 for veterans health care programs. I again want to reiterate to my colleagues that an increase of $1.2 billion for the VA's Medicare account will go a long way toward improving services for our veterans.

There is an area of particular interest to me I would like to discuss the with the distinguished chairman, and that is the success of Alzheimer's disease. I am proud to support a bill that will help to improve the treatment of veterans that suffer from this debilitating dementia.

As cochairman of the Congressional Alzheimer's Task Force, I am proud of the clinical research the VA has been conducting on Alzheimer's disease. As the chairman is aware, the VA has developed a very promising model to treat Alzheimer's patients at the Bedford, Massachusetts, VA facility. This model emphasizes a home-like setting, making patients feel comfortable, instead of subjecting them to painful and heroic medical interventions, and employs an interdisciplinary team of clinicians, dieticians

and therapists. All reviews of the Bedford program have concluded that it provides better care than traditional long-term care approaches.

It is my hope that, with the additional resources contained in this bill, the VA will take concrete steps to examine successful Alzheimer's programs such as the Bedford VA model and look to expand this approach to other VA medical centers.

I will yield to the chairman on that issue.

7:03 PM EDT

James T. Walsh, R-NY 25th

Mr. WALSH. Mr. Chairman, let me begin by thanking the distinguished chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs for the passionate leadership that the gentleman provides on that committee for our veterans. He is always there to defend the interests of our veterans and to make sure we meet the commitments we made to our veterans.

I would also like to thank him for his interest and support in finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease. As the gentleman surely knows, nearly 600,000 veterans are estimated to be suffering from brain disease, dementia and related disorders such as Alzheimer's. I am in fact a member of the task force, and I share his commitment to helping patients and their families who are struggling with this condition.

As for the chairman's question, I believe that, yes, the VA should be carefully examining the Alzheimer's programs it manages, identifying promising models of care and then ensuring that successful models are implemented at other medical centers. In this manner, all of our veterans can receive the very latest treatment methods. Our veterans deserve nothing less.