January 29, 2008 – Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that the revised Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Defense Authorization Act signed into law by the President on Monday includes a series of efforts she introduced to help address the urgent needs of wounded servicemembers. The bill contains measures offered by Senator Clinton from her Heroes at Home Act of 2007, Bridging the Gap for Wounded Warriors Act, and Restoring Disability Benefits for Injured and Wounded Warriors Act, among others.
“This is welcome news and it is a critical step forward in ensuring that our servicemembers and veterans get the care and services they have earned. These crucial measures will help improve screening for Traumatic Brain Injury, which is affecting so many who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan; smooth the transition for wounded servicemembers between DoD and VA healthcare systems; and cut red tape and streamline the disability benefits process. In a time when we are asking so much of our men and women in uniform, it is our responsibility to ensure that we honor their service and sacrifice by providing them with the best possible care and support.”
Senator Clinton’s measures signed into law by the President will:
* Mandate that the Department of Defense implement a screening protocol for Traumatic Brain Injury within 180 days. This provision builds on a measure that Senator Clinton first introduced as part of her Heroes at Home Act of 2007 to improve detection of mild and moderate TBI by developing an objective assessment tool to measure cognitive functioning of servicemembers both prior to and after deployment.
* Ensure interoperability of DoD-VA Joint Medical Record. Senator Clinton’s provision will make sure that efforts underway by the DoD and VA to create a joint electronic medical record result in a DoD-VA medical record that is compatible and synchronized with the national efforts to develop a nationwide coordinated health IT infrastructure, an issue on which Senator Clinton has been a leader. This measure builds on provisions, which would provide oversight and leadership for a joint DoD-VA interagency office, from Senator Clinton’s Bridging the Gap for Wounded Warriors Act.
* Reform the Disability Rating System. The final bill also builds on a measure from Senator Clinton’s Bridging the Gap for Wounded Warriors Act that would reform the current flawed disability rating system for wounded servicemembers by ending the DoD rating system and having military departments adopt the VA disability rating system.
* Ensure wounded servicemembers receive needed disability benefits. The bill also includes another measure from Senator Clinton’s Restoring Disability Benefits for Injured and Wounded Warriors Act: a provision to help make sure servicemembers receive disability benefits they need and deserve by requiring an independent review of disability benefit ratings below 20 percent and increasing disability benefits as warranted.
* Provide oversight of the disability rating system. The final bill also contains Senator Clinton’s provision to ensure needed oversight of the disability rating system for wounded servicemembers by continuing Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviews of treatment of wounded servicemembers. This measure also will ensure that disability benefit determination cases under review are prohibited from being reduced by a new determination. Senator Clinton proposed similar measures as part of her Restoring Disability Benefits for Injured and Wounded Warriors Act.
* Require research on servicemembers with TBI to monitor for signs of Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurodegeneration. This measure offered by Senators Clinton and Collins, co-chairs of the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, requires that any longitudinal studies on members of the Armed Forces with TBI also identify early signs of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurodegeneration. Head injuries, after age and family history, are one of the leading risk factors for an individual developing Alzheimer’s disease. This amendment builds on a provision for a 15 year longitudinal study on long-term health and mental health consequences of TBI that Senator Clinton proposed and was included in the FY2007 John Warner National Defense Authorization Act.
* Improve transition from DoD to VA care. This measure, similar to provisions in the TBI Access to Options Act introduced earlier this year by Senator Clinton and Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), will improve advocacy and assistance to wounded servicemembers, including those with traumatic brain injury, and their families as they transition from DOD to VA medical treatment, preventing them from getting caught in bureaucracy and red tape.
* Make active duty and veterans healthcare services available to all who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. This measure builds on a provision proposed by Senator Clinton in her Bridging the Gap for Wounded Warriors Act. Specifically, Senator Clinton has called for providing a two-year “overlap” period during which active duty and medically retired health care services and benefits would be available to injured current and former military servicemembers.
As New York’s first Senator to serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Clinton has made it one of her top priorities to ensure that our brave men and women in uniform have the healthcare and support they need. She has introduced legislation to improve the detection, assessment and treatment of traumatic brain injury and expand support systems for members and former members of the Armed Services with traumatic brain injury and their families.
Senator Clinton has also introduced legislation to help ensure wounded soldiers receive the disability benefits they need and deserve and to further protect military family financial benefits. She has called for a new GI Bill of Rights to once again honor the service and invest in the future of our men and women in uniform. She authored legislation signed into law last year that required an audit of widespread pay issues wounded soldiers are facing and was recently released by the Army showing continuing problems. Following recent reports that the Department of Defense was asking wounded servicemembers to re-pay portions of their enlistment bonuses, Senator Clinton joined Senators Sessions and Casey to introduce legislation to guarantee full payment of bonuses and incentives to veterans wounded in combat. Senator Clinton has fought to ensure servicemembers have the body armor they need. She also played a key role in securing into law access to TRICARE military health benefits for all drilling members of the National Guard and Reserves and their families.