Filner Leads House in Passage of Comprehensive Bills to Help Veterans Prevent Foreclosure, Access the Health Care They Need and Receive Earned Disability Benefits in a Timely Fashion

September 24, 2008 – On Wednesday, September 24, 2008, Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, announced that the House of Representatives passed comprehensive legislation to provide improved health care services and increased benefits for our Nation’s veterans.  Chairman Filner (D-CA) thanked his Republican and Democratic colleagues for their contributions to the comprehensive legislative package.  He also thanked his Senate counterparts for their dedication to working together to craft legislation that will address the important and timely needs of veterans.

Chairman Filner offered the following statement on the House Floor: “Over the course of the 110th Congress, we have learned much about the needs of our Nation’s veterans and the bills passed today go a long way to address them.  S. 2162 takes care of the men and women who have given so much to defend this Nation and provides our veterans with the quality health care programs and services they need and so richly deserve.  S. 3023 will help modernize the VA claims processing system and assist it in becoming a 21st century, world-class entity that reflects the selfless and priceless sacrifices of those it serves – our veterans, their families, and survivors.”  

The following bills were considered and approved by the House of Representatives:

S. 2162, as amended – The Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008 (Introduced by Senator Akaka)

Provisions of the bill include (but are not limited to):

–       Expanding treatment for substance use disorders and mental health care;

–       Conducting research into co-morbid PTSD and substance use disorders through the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder;

–       Providing mental health care, including counseling, for families, of veterans;

–       Providing reimbursement for a veteran for the costs of emergency treatment received in a non-VA facility;

–       Establishing a pilot program to allow a highly rural veteran to receive non-VA health care;

–       Designating at least four VA health care facilities as epilepsy centers of excellence;

–       Mandating the VA to centralize third party billing functions at consolidated centers;

–       Eliminating a rule prohibiting VA from conducting widespread testing for HIV infection;

–       Expanding health care benefits provided to the children of Vietnam and Korean war veterans born with spina bifida;

–       Developing and implementing a comprehensive policy on pain care management;

–       Expanding referral and counseling services for certain at-risk and transitional veterans;

–       Providing support services for very low-income veteran families residing in permanent housing; and,

–       Authorizing major medical facility projects for 2009.

Michael Michaud, Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, led the Committee in expanding treatment for veterans suffering from substance use disorders.  He provided the following statement in support of S. 2162: “Over the past several years, Congress has increased funding for VA health care, including for substance abuse treatment programs.  But substance use disorders frequently co-occur with other mental health conditions, and the need for services is increasing.  VA needs to rededicate itself to providing comprehensive services that can address both substance abuse and other mental health conditions such as PTSD. By passing this bill today, we are taking a huge step forward.  This bill will improve health care for veterans everywhere and ensures that a full continuum of care is provided with respect to substance use disorders at all VA medical centers.”

Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) provided necessary leadership and fought to provide appropriate treatment for veterans that suffer from epilepsy.  Perlmutter provided the following statement in support of S. 2162: “Our service men and women bravely fought for us, now it is time to fight for them and provide them with the best, highest quality medical care available.  As the father of a daughter with epilepsy, I understand and am committed to making sure our nation provides the critical medical care and research necessary to give these brave veterans the highest quality medical treatment by establishing Epilepsy Centers of Excellence within the VA Hospital System.  Furthermore, this bill honors our veterans by authorizing $568.4 million for the construction of the new VA Medical Center at the Fitzsimons medical campus in Aurora. This hospital will serve thousands of veterans in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountain region.  This bill meets our moral obligation to our service men and women who are defending our country overseas to help them when they return home.”

Representative Shelly Berkley (D-NV) offered the following statement as a tribute to Justin Bailey, who, after redeploying from Operation Iraqi Freedom, died in a VA domiciliary facility while receiving care for PTSD and substance use disorder: “Lance Corporal Justin Bailey sought help for PTSD and substance use and he was under VA care when his life tragically ended.  We owe it to his memory and to the Bailey family to see that what happened in his final days at a VA facility is never again repeated.  Studies have shown that as many as one in five veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are experiencing PTSD and that leaves these individuals at an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder.  This bill will help to ensure that we offer our veterans a full array of VA treatment and counseling programs designed to address mental health issues arising from their military service.”

Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA) offered the following statement in support of S. 2162: “As someone who served in the company of heroes, it is unconscionable that so many of my fellow veterans seek shelter night after night.  I am proud that we have begun the important task of making sure that the brave Americans who once faced down our enemies don’t have to face another night out on the street.”

Chairman Filner, a champion of expanding mental health treatment access and options for veterans, applauded the hard work of Congressman Phil Hare (D-IL) and said: “Congressman Phil Hare continues to work hard for veterans and their families.  He has been an extremely hard working member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and he is dedicated to expanding mental health treatment, counseling, and mental health services to family members of veterans who are seeking treatment.  Accessing mental health services for family members is particularly important for our newest generation of veterans and their families, many of whom are struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.”

S. 3023, as amended – The Veterans’ Benefits Improvements Act of 2008

Provisions of the bill include (but are not limited to):

–       Directing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to modernize the disability benefits claims processing system of the VA to ensure the accurate and timely delivery of compensation to veterans and their families and survivors;

–       Establishing an Office of Survivors Assistance within the VA;

–       Allowing temporary disability ratings for certain veterans;

–       Addressing employee training for those responsible for processing claims by redeveloping the certification exam and requiring an evaluation of the training and quality assurance program;

–       Decreasing the equity requirement to refinance a home loan;

–       Extending two pilot programs that offer adjustable rate loans;

–       Reforming the USERRA (Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act) complaint process and ensuring that equitable relief is available to all USERRA victims when appropriate;

–       Increasing the number of veterans that can participate in the independent living program;

–       Updating housing construction and design guidelines to take into account any new or unique disabilities for veterans in need of specially adaptive housing;

–       Providing assistance to the United States Paralympic Program for veterans and members of the Armed Services;

–       Extending Servicemember Civil Relief Act protections to help service members with deployment orders to more easily terminate or suspend cell phone contracts without fee or penalty; and,

–       Repealing the sunset provision for the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans.

Representative John Hall (D-NY) offered the following statement in support of S. 3023: “As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, I have made overhauling the broken disability claims process a top priority.  It’s a disgrace that veterans have to wait months or years for the benefits they have earned because of a bureaucracy that simply doesn’t work. A nimble, responsive VA claims system could go a long way to help our nation live up to its commitment to care for wounded veterans and their families. It could help prevent suicides, bankruptcies, poverty, family disruptions, and homelessness among our nation’s disabled veterans.  We can and must change the way Washington handles the claims of our injured veterans.”

Chairman Filner stated, “There are nearly 24 million veterans in this country, more than 2.7 million of whom receive disability compensation benefits from the VA.  S. 3023 would comprehensively modernize the VBA claims processing system and arm it with the up-to-date tools and paradigms it needs to process claims using integrated information technology and platforms, while improving accountability, timeliness, and quality of adjudicated claims.  I want to thank Mr. Hall for his leadership in tackling the central issues that have led to the unmanageable claims backlog and the lack of accountability within the VA.  Veterans can now have hope that the VA will finally stand for Veterans Advocate, instead of Veterans Adversary!”

H.R. 6980 (Introduced by Representative Henry Brown)

This bill authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase the amount of the Medal of Honor special pension provided under that title by up to $1,000.

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