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Bill aims to expand VA care for under-served

Featured in Legislative Center
Bill aims to expand VA care for under-served

Several of The American Legion's top legislative priorities are wrapped up in S. 1963 - an omnibus bill passed Wednesday by the House of Representatives - that aims to improve women's services at VA health-care facilities, provide better support for caregivers of disabled veterans, expand mental-health services, reduce homelessness and commit the U.S. government to a number of other initiatives to better serve veterans and their families.

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act sailed through the House by a 419-0 vote. A Senate vote awaits. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif., said the cost estimate of the added services is about $1.7 billion over the next five years, or approximately 1 percent of the VA budget.

American Legion National Commander Clarence Hill testified before a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees last September that women's health-care needs had to move up on the congressional agenda for VA. "The demographic of the American veteran is changing," he told the committees at that time. "This includes a growing and significant number of women veterans who sacrifice no less than their male counterparts."

After S. 1963 passed Wednesday, American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division Director Barry Searle said the nation's largest veterans organization is "especially impressed by the attention this bill is giving to our 1.8 million women veterans. It specifically calls for VA mental-health professionals to be educated and trained to handle sexual trauma cases. It authorizes a study to find out what barriers are preventing women veterans from seeking the VA health-care benefits they've earned from their service. The bill creates a pilot program to provide childcare services for mothers who need VA services, and even provides seven days of health care to newborn children of women veterans."

Hill added that the Legion has worked closely with Congress over the last year and a half to set fresh, relevant priorities for VA health care and pass legislation that will make them a reality. "This omnibus bill really strengthens the quality and quantity of health care for our nation's veterans," Hill explained. "It improves VA rural health care and increases access to mental health care. It even gives more care and services to veterans who've been exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals in combat zones. This bill is a comprehensive response to many things The American Legion has been advocating for quite some time."

The Legion has worked for several years to improve VA access in rural areas. In many sparsely populated parts of the country, veterans are forced to drive hundreds of miles to receive medical care. Until recent years, their travel reimbursement was 11 cents a mile. While the reimbursement rate has more than quadrupled in response to pressure from The American Legion, the omnibus bill passed Wednesday is designed to do a better job of delivering care where veterans live.

"This bill will do a lot for our veterans living in rural and other remote areas," Searle explained. "It requires VA to focus on recruiting and retaining more health-care workers in rural areas, improve the overall quality of health care in rural communities, and to expand telemedicine services in those areas."

Commander Hill has also spoken with leaders in Congress and the administration to extend help for families who struggle to take care of their wounded-warrior or disabled-veteran spouses or children. "This legislation will support family members and others who care for the disabled, ill, or injured veterans," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, "This is very important to families, military families. Our wounded soldiers and their families have made a serious sacrifice for our country, and this bill will bring them some relief." The measure offers 24-hour respite care in veterans' homes, caregiver training and mental health counseling, as well as financial support to cover travel costs for medical treatment.

Filner and Pelosi both praised The American Legion for its persistence, insight and support as the bill was crafted. "As the leaders of The American Legion have stated, this legislation offers bold solutions to major challenges facing servicemembers, veterans and their families."

Other provisions of the bill include:

  • Prohibition of co-payments for veterans who are catastrophically disabled.
  • More locations where homeless veterans can receive help.
  • Authorization for a long-awaited study on military and veteran suicide and a requirement for VA to provide counseling referrals for members of the armed forces who are not otherwise eligible for readjustment counseling.
  • Plans for a pilot program studying the use of community organizations and local and state government in providing care and benefits to veterans.
  • A requirement for VA to contract with the Institute of Medicine to study the health impact of Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense.
  • A pilot program to provide specified dental services to veterans, survivors, and dependents of veterans through a dental insurer.
  • A requirement for VA to provide hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care for certain Vietnam veterans exposed to herbicide and Gulf War-era veterans who have insufficient medical evidence to establish a service-connected disability.

"It is simply our duty as a nation, when we put our men and women in harm's way, to care for them when they return," Filner said. "S. 1963 demonstrates America's commitment to the dedicated servicemembers who have served in uniform and puts front and center the health-care needs of veterans and their families. It is our pledge to them, that we have not forgotten the sacrifices they have made in defense of this country."

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gumpa_38

April 23, 2010 - 12:42pm

Hi Charlie; You didn't say anything about your service connection. I would need to know if you served in a combat zone or not and I would need to know your service dates. So far if you were in Vietnam, You would qualify for disability for the Prostrate Cancer as a presumptive disease under agent orange. I am sorry to say this but it isn't anything to do with Obama at all, It is all the VA and the way they do things. You need to go to a State Certified Service Officer and file a claim for disability and talk with the S.O. to make sure you are entitled to help from the VA instead of just a spend down on Medical. If I can help email me at: gumpa_38@yahoo.com

CHARLIE R

April 23, 2010 - 10:56am

I certainly hope this new bill will offer some help to veterans...I was disabled in 2001, placed on SS disability COPD], when I reached 65, was transferred to regular SS...applied last June for disability for help with medicines needed and cost to reach my nearest VA, 116 miles....was denied, re-applied last October '09, denied...reason, "make too much money"...I only receive SS and a $ 73.18/ month retirement from Pers, my total income is less than 1/3 of the Federal Poverty level...who can I contact to have this "joke" corrected? Now am being told by my primary care person at the VA, [a Nurse Practitioner], that she has to decide whether I can see Pulmonologists [breathing has become so labored, I can hardly walk], physician for stomach, eye, prostate, problems, etc.....IS THIS JUST A SAMPLE OF THE NEW OBAMA CARE....OR STANDARD PROCEDURE AT VA HOSPITALS FOR VETERANS????

jerupert

April 23, 2010 - 8:10pm

Lets give the program and law a chance to go to work. I am a blind disabled vet,( non service connected). In the past 5 years I have received excellant care from the Va. Just think, hurry and wait, yes its like the good old days of active duty. The Va gets a 10+ from me. Please see your county veterans service officer,call or write the American Legion , or Dav, ask the questions, wait, and get the answers you need. Be your own advocate,follow up and the chances are you will probably get the care you are entiled to.

Elizabeth

April 23, 2010 - 8:29am

When does this go in affect, my husband is 100% and he is pretty much going blind due macular degeneration, detatched retinas,glaucoma and cataracs.I also have to work, the day he does go blind I will stay home...

jerupert

April 23, 2010 - 7:57pm

I am a blind vet or sometimes called visually imparied. If your husband has the conditions that you mentioned I would urge to to contact your nearest Va Hosp. and enquire about a program called VISOR. This program has helped me get the blind rehab services that I need. There are several Blind Rehab Centers located at differant Va hospitals through out the states that offer a 4-8 week blind rehab service. The programs a for all vets even those in there 80's. Being blind does not mean that you cannot see anything, there are guide lines set out for the legal limits. I happen to be night blind and what is called tunnel vision. I require reading assistance equipment and use a cane. My distance is 20/120, legal limit is 20/200, my side vision is 10 degrees in each eye. Good luck, with getting the help for your husband is entilted to.

Jeff

April 23, 2010 - 2:53pm

This legislation, which has now passed in both the House and the Senate, should be signed into law by President Obama in time for Memorial Day, appropriately enough. The Caregiver provisions are supposed to go into effect 270 days after the date of the enactment, so we are looking at the end of February 2011 for this new benefit to be available, if VA implements the Act in a timely manner. Hope that helps, best of luck and thank you.

sgtchi

April 22, 2010 - 10:22pm

It would be more than a simple help if a Veterans Hospital was constructed on the south-western side of the Island since a large number of veterans live in that area, It is with difficulty that they attend their appointmens in the VA Hospital in Rio Piedras (San Juan) The clinics are not well equiped to handle simple things like servicing a Medical Port in a patient and that patient has to travel to San Juan for a simple procedure.It would be of considerable help to our veterans in the Island if either a hospital is constructed in this area or the outpatient clinics are upgraded to handle the Veterans. From Post 154 Boqueron, P.R. Vincent Ruiz Post Service Officer

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