Friday, May 16, 2008

House OKs Army hospital

House OKs Army hospital

Fort Riley also stands to gain housing facility for injured troops
By Tim Carpenter
The Capital-Journal
Published Friday, May 16, 2008
The U.S. House approved legislation Thursday containing $404 million for a new hospital at Fort Riley and $50 million to build a housing facility for injured soldiers at the Army base.

Upgrades for the Kansas installation remain tangled in a dispute with the Senate and President Bush over spending on combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, enhancement of the GI Bill and expenditures for a series of domestic programs.

The Kansas delegation in the House split along party lines on the Fort Riley legislation. Republican Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt voted against it. Democratic Reps. Nancy Boyda and Dennis Moore supported the measure.

Boyda, who represents the 2nd District containing Fort Riley, said replacing the 50-year-old Irwin Army Community Hospital would allow for expansion and modernization of health services at the rapidly growing military base.

Accompanying housing in a "warrior support complex" would improve treatment of seriously wounded troops.

"This funding is a huge step in the right direction," Boyda said. "The new hospital will improve the quality of life for our soldiers and their families by providing them with the best and most modern care available."

At the end of the day in Washington, the House rejected a plan to allocate $163 billion to the Department of Defense for continued combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Majorities in the House agreed to broaden college assistance for veterans and to approve a 13-week expansion of unemployment insurance benefits. The GI Bill provision would be paid with a tax surcharge on individuals with incomes above $500,000. The House also adopted a nonbinding plan to complete withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq by December 2009.

The White House issued a warning that Bush would veto the bill due to dislike of a new tax, the nonwar appropriations and restrictions on the military's ability to wage war.

Boyda said the entire Kansas delegation should get behind health care initiatives at Fort Riley.

"It's not about dollars and cents," Boyda said. "No matter what Kansans feel about the war, they all want to take care of our soldiers and their veterans. That's where everyone agrees."

The House legislation includes financing for the new hospital at Fort Riley near Junction City and for hospitals for Camp Lejuene, N.C., and Fort Benning, Ga.

Boyda said planning work had started on a hospital replacement at Fort Riley, but the new appropriation would bring a medical center into service more quickly. Return of the 1st Infantry Division from Germany and transfer of additional troops to Fort Riley exacerbated conditions at the current hospital.

Boyda said a conversation she had with Army spouses at Fort Riley affirmed the hospital project had to move up the priority list.

"The stories we heard were very, very concerning and very consistent," she said. "It was difficult to get health care for their kids."

The congresswoman said military commanders at Fort Riley endorsed rapid replacement of the base hospital.

"This is about respecting and honoring the sacrifices that the soldiers and their families make," Boyda said. "Even if they don't put on a uniform, they do serve every day."

Tim Carpenter can be reached at (785) 296-3005 or

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