The Senate Appropriations Committee approved legislation Thursday to reduce a backlog in veterans' claims and build a $120 million cybersecurity training facility at the Naval Academy.
The measures are part of a $72 billion bill that funds Veterans Affairs programs and construction on military bases. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, chairs the committee. That bill is expected to go to the Senate floor in the coming months, and then to the House.
The Veterans Affairs proposals, which include $30 million for training and hiring, $10 million for hardware upgrades and a $5 million increase in funding for the VA's board of appeals, will "ensure veterans and their families have access to the care and benefits they've earned and deserve," Mikulski said in a statement.
"When our veterans return from war, they shouldn't have to face a quagmire of bureaucracy in getting their claims processed," she said.
The legislation also would require a study on the Veterans Benefits Administration's business operations and direct the agency to provide the committee with a multi-year hiring strategy, according to Mikulski. The benefits administration would be required to give quarterly briefings on its transition to paperless claims, and to send an email to every veteran who signs up on the eBenefits website instructing them on how to file claims.
The proposed 206,000-square-foot Naval Academy cybersecurity center would contain classrooms, offices, lecture halls, and teaching and research laboratories for cyber warfare students and faculty. It also would include a secure intelligence facility, to allow students to learn how to safely handle confidential information.
The academy expects to break ground on the new center, which it first announced three years ago, as early as 2016. Private companies are expected to provide funding in addition to the federal government.
Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller, the academy's superintendent, had made the center a priority, saying the institution's proximity to the National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade and to Washington makes it a logical place for cybersecurity training.