Sarah Conard

Legion testifies on various health bills

American Legion staff member Denise Williams testified at a March 25 hearing of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health. Williams is assistant director of health policy for the Legion's Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division.

Below are highlights from Williams' written testimony on specific legislation.

H.R. 1075, RECOVER Act (Restoring Essential Care for Our Veterans for Effective Recovery): "Timely and open access to quality health care for veterans is a major priority of The American Legion and this legislation is consistent with our efforts in this regard. The American Legion does, however, have some concerns. Although such contracts would certainly be helpful during a disaster in which VA medical facilities are not available, we do not want such an arrangement to become a disincentive for VA to quickly repair or replace damaged facilities. This bill also does not address length of the contracted care, long-term care or how quality of care will be assessed."

H.R. 3926, Armed Forces Breast Cancer Research Act: "The American Legion fully supports this timely and important legislation given the recent breast cancer incidences among male veterans that were stationed at Camp Lejeune. Moreover, according to the Clinical Breast Care Project at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, there have been over 2,000 cases of breast cancer diagnosed in both male and female active-duty service members within the last decade. The Center further stated that breast cancer is the single greatest cause of cancer deaths among women under 40 and is a significant cause of mortality for women in the Armed Forces. The American Legion would also encourage inclusion of the Reserve component in this study."

Proposed Legislation to Amend Title 38, U.S. Code, Concerning Mental Health Counselors: "This proposal would seek to amend title 38, USC, to authorize the VA Secretary to waive certain requirements relating to mental health counselors.

"According to the National Institutes of Health, injuries and illnesses such as mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) respectively, have several symptoms in common. Among these symptoms are irritability, concentration deficits, amnesia for the causal event, reduced cognitive processing ability and sleeping disturbances. Clearly, this situation adds to the difficulty in diagnosing PTSD in patients with TBI. The American Legion contends that due to the complexity of these illnesses and injuries, such as TBI and PTSD, the most qualified mental health professionals are required. Therefore, The American Legion is opposed to waiving current requirements relating to mental health counselors."

H.R. 2698, Veterans and Survivors Behavioral Health Awareness Act: "The American Legion fully supports this legislation. VA's Vet Centers have served as one of the main catalysts that have assisted with successfully transitioning service members and veterans to VA. Section 3 of this bill would seek to restore the authority of Vets Centers to provide referral and other assistance upon request to veterans currently not authorized counseling. This provision would allow Vet Centers to cast a broader net in further minimizing veterans who would otherwise continue to face transition challenges."

H.R. 2879, Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act of 2009 (VA has established Rural Health Centers located in three regions of the country: Eastern Region (White River, Vt.), Central Region (Iowa City, Iowa), and Western Region (Salt Lake City): "The American Legion believes there should be interaction between the abovementioned Rural Health Centers to prevent redundancy. Due to the vastness of rural areas, Rural Health Centers should be increased to accommodate various issues such as lack of access to medical facilities, lack of medical professionals, women veteran issues, and homelessness.

"This bill would also seek to increase transportation options for rural veterans. The American Legion believes this is imperative and will increase veterans' options of receiving timely access to quality health care. The American Legion also believes that veterans should not be penalized due to the geographical location in which they choose to reside."

Click here to read the full testimony.