WASHINGTON – As two appropriations bills moved through the Senate Appropriations Committee today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley delivered key wins for farmers and veterans in Oregon and across the country. Last year, Merkley became the first Oregon Senator to sit on the powerful Appropriations Committee since his mentor Mark Hatfield. He vowed to use his new position to fight for Oregon’s priorities and middle class families.
Today, the full Committee passed two bills: the Agriculture and the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bills for FY15.
In the MilCon-VA Bill, Merkley fought to improve the resources and treatments available to our nation’s veterans. He worked to substantially increase funding for transportation for veterans in rural areas to VA clinics and hospitals – particularly important in large, rural states like Oregon. He fought to increase funding for medical and prosthetics research, which allows OHSU to partner with the Portland VA in developing cutting edge medical research and care for veterans.
Merkley also worked across the aisle with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) to push the VA to update its policies surrounding veterans’ Agent Orange exposure. They passed a bipartisan amendment to urge the VA to form a registry for veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange outside of Vietnam and to report back to Congress on policies they are considering that would give these veterans access to treatment and compensation. Merkley has been pushing the VA for several years to change their policies on Agent Orange for veterans who served in contaminated spaces, such as C-123 planes, after the Vietnam war.
“Our veterans stood up for us overseas, and we must stand up for them,” said Merkley. “They deserve the very best care and resources. The VA should never deny treatment or compensation to veterans who suffer from service-connected illnesses. That’s why I will keep pushing the VA to update their policies on Agent Orange exposure. If a veteran has Agent Orange-connected illnesses today — no matter whether veterans were exposed in the jungles of Vietnam or in a plane after the war — they should get the care and compensation they deserve.”
Merkley sits on the Agriculture Subcommittee and secured key wins in the Agriculture bill for Oregon’s specialty crop growers, organic farmers and for programs that fund forest research at Oregon State University.
“I fought to make sure Oregon’s voice was heard in this legislation,” said Merkley. “Our agriculture policy shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all that only helps big agribusiness. That doesn’t work for Oregon. As one of the top states for specialty crops and organic farming, Oregon deserves fair research funding and crop insurance for all our farmers.”
Key victories in the MilCon-VA bill include:
- The bipartisan amendment urging a new Agent Orange registry and requiring the VA to report back to Congress details on any plans they are considering to establish a policy regarding presumed exposure to Agent Orange for vets who may have been exposed during service or training outside of Vietnam. In past cases, registries have been important steps in establishing policies that help veterans get the care and compensation they deserve for service-related injury or illness.
- $3.628 million for grants for transportation of Veterans in Highly Rural Areas, a more than 20% increase over last year’s funding.
- $589 million for Medical and Prosthetics research. OHSU works with Portland VA on developing cutting edge medical research and care through this program.
Key victories in the Agriculture bill include:
- $80 million for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, to support scientific discovery and technology for a Oregon’s fruit and vegetable farmers, such as research used by farmers to improve pest management plant breeding, production efficiency and other innovations.
- A fix to level the playing field for organic farmers who need crop insurance. Currently, organic farmers can’t get crop insurance policies that will reimburse losses at the actual value of their organic crops, but instead reimburse at the lower, non-organic value. Now, USDA will be required to move quickly to set fair crop insurance reimbursement rates for organic farmers.
- $15 million in value-added producer grants to help farmers develop new farm and food-related businesses that boost farm income, create jobs, and increase rural economic opportunity.
- $3.05 million for the Wood Utilization program, which will fund research at OSU on how to strengthen Western forests and improve forest industries. Because of under-funding last year, OSU lost out on $1 million in research funds.
- $3.538 million for wood-stove swap outs, which will help Oregonians in rural areas to replace their wood stoves and improve air quality.