Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Obama on the Issues - Veterans


As a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senator Obama is committed to helping the heroes who defend our nation today and the veterans who fought in years past.

Benefits Disparities

Following reports in December 2004 that Illinois veterans have for decades ranked nearly last in average disability pay received, Senator Obama led efforts to uncover the reasons for this disparity and to correct it. As a result of this pressure, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) opened an investigation into the matter, agreed to hire a dozen new claims specialists for the Chicago regional office, and agreed to re-examine the claims of Illinois veterans who felt they have been treated unfairly. Senators Obama and Durbin introduced an amendment that became law requiring the VA to notify Illinois veterans about their right to seek a review of their past claims. The resulting outreach to Illinois veterans in the summer of 2006, led to an increase in the number of Illinois veterans getting the benefits and services they deserve.

Greater Funding for Veterans Health Care

As early as February 2005, Senator Obama warned of a shortfall in the VA budget. Four months later, the VA reported that in fact it had more than a $1 billion shortfall. Senator Obama cosponsored a bill that led to a $1.5 billion increase in veterans' medical care. During the debate on the Fiscal Year 2007 budget, Senator Obama cosponsored measures that would have provided additional funding increases for veterans.

In September 2006, Senator Obama introduced the Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act (S. 3988) to improve the VA’s planning process to avoid budget shortfalls in the future. The bill requires the VA and the Department of Defense to work together and share data so that we know precisely how many troops will be returning home and entering the VA system.

Homeless Veterans

Every year, 400,000 veterans across the country, including an estimated 38,000 in Chicago, spend some time living on the streets. Senator Obama has been a leader in fighting homelessness among veterans. He authored the Sheltering All Veterans Everywhere Act (SAVE Act) (S. 1180) to strengthen and expand federal homeless veteran programs that serve over 100,000 homeless veterans annually. During the debate on the Fiscal Year 2007 budget, Senator Obama passed an amendment to increase funding for homeless veterans programs by $40 million. These funds would benefit programs that provide food, clothing, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and employment and housing assistance to homeless veterans.

In June 2006, Senator Obama introduced the Homes for Heroes Act (S. 3475), which would expand access to long-term affordable housing for homeless veterans by setting aside $225 million to purchase, build or rehabilitate homes and apartments for veterans. The legislation would also greatly expand existing veterans rental assistance programs and create a new office within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to coordinate services to homeless veterans.

Food for Recovering Soldiers

Senator Obama introduced an amendment that became law providing food services to wounded veterans receiving physical therapy or rehabilitation services at military hospitals. Previously, service members receiving physical therapy or rehabilitation services in a medical hospital for more than 90 days were required to pay for their meals.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and TBI

Senator Obama fought a VA proposal that would have required a reexamination of all PTSD cases in which full benefits were granted. He and Senator Durbin passed an amendment that has become law preventing the VA from conducting a review of cases, without first providing Congress with a complete report regarding the implementation of such review. In November 2005, the VA announced that it was abandoning its planned review.

Senator Obama passed an amendment to ensure that all service members returning from Iraq are properly screened for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). TBI is being called the signature injury of the Iraq war. The blast from improvised explosive devices can jar the brain, causing bruising or permanent damage. Concussions can have huge health effects including slowed thinking, headaches, memory loss, sleep disturbance, attention and concentration deficits, and irritability.

Easing the Transition to the VA

Senator Obama passed an amendment that became law requiring the Department of Defense (DOD) to report to Congress on the delayed development of an electronic medical records system compatible with the VA's electronic medical records system. DOD's delay in developing such a system has created obstacles for service members transitioning into the VA health care system.

In September 2006, Senator Obama introduced the Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act (S. 3988) which would help veterans transition from the DOD health system to the VA system by extending the window in which new veterans can get mental health care from two years to five years. The Lane Evans bill also would improve transition services for members of the National Guard and Reserves.

Read Senator Obama's Speeches

Source: http://obama.senate.gov/issues/
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Blogger RTO Trainer said...

I encouraged my Congressional delegation to vote against S. 117 - the Lane Evans Veterans Healthcare & Benefits Improvement Act.

It may seem strange that a serving Veteran and National Guardsman might oppose this bill. I do. While I do believe that every returning Soldier needs and deserves access to mental health counseling and that it should be provided compulsorily, I'm mindful that the VA has never been fully funded and this activity would naturally fall to them. In this light, S. 117 amounts to an unfunded mandate which would deprive other, just as deserving, Veterans of treatment, and further increase already unconscionably long delays.

I asked them not to fall into the "patriot trap," that just because it's for Veterans its a good thing. This bill trades on the desire to support the troops, but is particularly poorly thought through in it's execution. Full funding of the VA, would be the correct course to take and a better use of the Congress' time. Then if we think we can add more, so be it.

In addition, S. 117 contains requirements for a raft of reports on the use of Veterans' benefits. This further exacerbates the funding problem and steals time from administrators already working beyond capacity. Supporters of the bill never mention this added and unnecessary burden.

12:17 AM, March 01, 2007  

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