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Sen. Casey adds $560M for vets' health

| Saturday, July 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Nearly $560 million to find cures for a variety of medical maladies dogging military veterans was added by Sen. Bob Casey Jr. to the 2015 Defense Appropriations bill that cleared committee this week and awaits a full Senate vote.

If approved by the Senate and merged with a similar House of Representatives spending package inked in June, the Pentagon will fund research nationwide for medical issues affecting veterans. They range from breast, ovarian and prostate cancers to the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: high-tech prostheses for the maimed and neurological and psychological ailments potentially linked to bomb blasts.

“We have an obligation to help those veterans who have redeployed, coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and we need to do more for these veterans and their families,” Casey, D-Scranton, told the Tribune-Review. “And many people don't understand how we've fallen behind as a nation in medical research.”

Casey said U.S. companies will benefit from federal discoveries at a time when Europe and China are investing more in medical research, aiding their global competitors. Information learned from the peer-reviewed studies can be applied to America's civilian patients. He pointed to the $60 million earmarked for traumatic brain injury research and said that it promises to help 2.5 million American civilians who suffer from concussions annually.

Part of a nearly $550 billion spending plan — nearly $20 billion cheaper than the House's version — the Senate bill provides a 1 percent raise to uniformed and civilian personnel at the Department of Defense. It conflicts, however, with White House cost-saving priorities in other ways by halting a Pentagon effort to reconfigure helicopter squadrons in the Army and National Guard and by saving the Navy's Tomahawk cruise missile program.

Mirroring the House bill, the Senate legislation spares the A-10 Warthog, a ground attack airplane that has been marked for the scrap heap as the Air Force switches over to the Joint Strike Fighter. That plan is estimated to save $4.2 billion, but the new jet has been plagued by cost overruns and technological glitches.

The White House has vowed to veto any legislation that fails to address cost concerns as the military draws down from the war in Afghanistan.

Carl Prine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7826 or cprine@tribweb.com.

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