Aug 14 VA Update: Bill Supported by VCS Would Let Troops Get Help at Vet Centers

Army Times

Veterans for Common Sense Supports Bill to Open Vet Centers to Active Duty Soldiers.

August 14, 2008 – Opening the nation’s 232 Vet Centers to active-duty and reserve component members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan so they could receive readjustment counseling might duplicate existing military programs, but it would still help combat veterans, according to a new analysis by a nonpartisan arm of Congress.

The Congressional Budget Office, tasked with putting a price tag on pending legislation, looked at counseling services as it estimated the cost of S 2969, the Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2008, passed by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, passed the health bill in June, but the full Senate has not yet considered it. In preparation for floor debate on veterans’ legislation, the budget office reviewed the bill, including the potential cost of expanding eligibility for Vet Centers to include people still in the military.

By CBO’s estimate, about 1 million people still in the military — active or reserve forces — are or have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Having all of them show up at Vet Centers would overwhelm a system that now serves about 165,000 people a year, but that is unlikely. CBO estimates that about one-third would seek mental health counseling and that only about 5 percent of those who seek counseling would use Vet Centers rather than the free on- and off-base counseling already provided by the Defense Department.

To come up with a cost, CBO assumed it would take abut $415 a year per person to provide counseling. After adjusting for inflation, this means that Vet Centers would need $24 million a year in extra funding over five years, a relatively small amount considering their current annual operating costs of $131 million.

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