Politics & Government

House military construction bill contains $416 million for Washington

WASHINGTON -- The House approved a military construction bill Friday that would provide nearly $416 million for Washington state's military bases, including money to continue the expansion of Fort Lewis for Stryker brigade facilities.

The funding level in the House bill is down from a peak of $624 million in 2008 and down about $50 million from the current fiscal year.

But over the past 10 years, money for construction at the state's bases had grown dramatically, as Fort Lewis expanded because of the Stryker brigades, additional C-17s were stationed at McChord Air Force Base, and Navy facilities near Bremerton including the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the submarine base at Bangor expanded rapidly.

More than 30,000 soldiers are now stationed at Fort Lewis. In addition, 4,200 civilians work at the base, along with 7,000 contractors, said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.

In fiscal 2000, Congress appropriated $135 million for work at the state's installations.

"We are doing extraordinarily well," Dicks said. "This year's bill is another major step and it will keep going on and on."

Dicks said that because the state's bases are located on the Pacific Rim they have a key "geographic advantage" that make them among the most important in the nation. He also said they provide a critical foundation for the state's economy.

"In these tough economic times, it's great to have something that is stable," he said.

Of the funding in this year's bill, about $151 million will be spent at Fort Lewis on a live-fire exercise shoot house, a facility for military dog training and housing, continued work on a new brigade complex, firing range and control facilities, a Special Operations support facility, access road to connect the base with McChord and additions to the TRICARE health and dental clinics.

The rest of the money will be spent on Navy facilities, including a replacement pier at the naval shipyard in Bremerton needed for the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, which will arrive in 2010 for two years of scheduled maintenance. Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane will also receive some construction funding, but not McChord.

Dicks said growth at McChord has stabilized since the arrival of the final C-17, and there were no new construction projects.

The $134 billion bill also includes more than $53 billion for veterans programs, an increase of $5.4 billion over current spending levels. About $4.6 billion will be used to continue to improve treatment of soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health problems. The funding will also allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire an additional 1,200 claims processors.

The bill was approved 415-3.

The Senate version of the bill includes $399 million in construction for Washington state bases. Included in the Senate bill is $2 million to build a first-of-its-kind women's and children's facility at Madigan Army Medical Center.

The center would provide health care and services to Fort Lewis' growing number of women and newborns, said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a member of the Senate military construction and veterans affairs subcommittee.

"We owe it to our soldiers and their families to ensure Madigan keeps up with the changing needs of the Fort Lewis community" Murray said.