A proposal to slash the Defense Department's medical research budget was rejected Tuesday by the Senate, preserving dollars inserted into the Pentagon budget by Congress each year for research on conditions from epilepsy and Lyme disease to traumatic brain injury and paralysis.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had included language in the Senate draft defense policy bill to trim the Pentagon's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, or CDMRP, funding.

But Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., on Tuesday proposed an amendment to strip McCain's language from the final bill.

McCain had argued that many initiatives in CDMRP are tangential or unrelated to the health of active-duty service members. The program finances research on more than 20 medical conditions, including some with a definite military link, such as spinal cord injuries, burns and exposure-related Parkinson’s disease.

Others, however, are debilitating genetic disorders such as tuberous sclerosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy — both conditions that would preclude a sufferer from serving.

McCain and his supporters said funding for non-military-related research belongs elsewhere, such as in the Health and Human Services Department budget, where it could be managed by the National Institutes of Health or other research organizations.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he supported McCain because the military must preserve funding for operations, personnel and equipment and jettison programs that don't directly support the active duty.

"There's a billion dollars in the medical budget in the DoD for research. What we are suggesting is that the Secretary of Defense review the programs and certify that they apply to the military," Graham said. "If we are going to bring about change in Washington ... we have an obligation to have a smarter, more reformed system."

Durbin strongly disagreed, as did a majority of senators who supported Durbin's amendment, which was added to the bill by a 66-32 vote.

"[Sen. McCain's] provision requires the Secretary of Defense to certify that each medical research grant is designed to directly promote, enhance or restore the health and safety of members of the armed forces — not veterans, not retirees, not spouses of military members, not children. In my view, they are all part of the national defense," Durbin said.

CDMRP funds are not requested by the Pentagon in its annual budget request, and instead are extra dollars given to the department to manage for research programs deemed by Congress to be necessary to advance medical science and promote the health of the armed forces.

CDMRP grants are highly sought in the medical research community, and organizations often press their congressional representatives to support their research efforts under the CDMRP umbrella.

The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the National Defense Authorization bill later this week.

Patricia Kime covers military health care and medicine for Military Times. She can be reached at pkime@mililtarytimes.com.

Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.

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