Issue Position: Honoring Our 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. A grandson of a World War II veteran who went to college on the G.I. Bill, Senator Obama has reached out to Republicans and Democrats in order to honor our commitment to America's veterans.
"We extend our deep gratitude to Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) for catapulting homeless veteran issues onto the Senate agenda by introducing this comprehensive measure."
-National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, Congressional Testimony, March 16, 2006
Sheltering and Rehabilitating Homeless Veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that one in three homeless adult males is a veteran. A total of 400,000 vets experience homelessness over the course of the year. Senator Obama authored legislation to extend and expand critically important programs to stop homelessness among American veterans. Working with Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Larry Craig (R-ID), he passed legislation to provide comprehensive services and affordable housing options to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Housing and Urban Development and community organizations.
Fighting for Illinois Veterans' Fair Share of Disability Benefits.
Following reports that veterans in Illinois were receiving less in disability benefits than those nearly anywhere else in the country, Senator Obama led efforts to correct the problems that created these disparities. As a result of his efforts, VA opened an investigation into the matter, agreed to hire more disability claims specialists for the Chicago regional office, and agreed to re-examine the claims of Illinois veterans who felt they had been treated unfairly. Senator Obama worked with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) to force the VA to notify veterans in Illinois and other states traditionally underserved about their right to seek a review of their past claims. The resulting outreach led to significant numbers of Illinois veterans getting the benefits they deserve.
"After prodding from the Chicago Sun-Times, veterans and Illinois' two U.S. senators, the Veterans Affairs Department is sending out letters to Illinois vets to address the state's 20-year history of ranking at the bottom of the nation for disability benefits. . . . The massive VA outreach -- a total of 326,000 letters -- affects Illinois and five other states with low benefits: Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio."
-Chicago Sun-Times, May 9, 2006
"Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Dick Durbin have been in the forefront, once this problem was exposed by the Sun-Times. . . . What better advocates could vets hope for than Durbin and Obama? Dick Durbin is the Democratic whip, an energetic senator who has done much for the state. Barack Obama is a rising star whose future is limitless. . . . It's about fairness to 1 million Illinois vets, fairness which they have earned and is long overdue."
-Chicago Sun-Times, Editorial, May 30, 2005
Feeding Recovering Wounded Veterans.
Senator Obama introduced an amendment that became law providing food services to wounded service members receiving physical therapy or rehabilitation services at military hospitals. Previously, service members recovering in a military hospital for more than 90 days were required to pay for their own meals.
"Thanks to some hungry G.I.'s and a U.S. senator, some wounded soldiers will no longer have to dig into their own pockets to pay for their meals at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C."
-Mark Benjamin, Salon.com, May 13, 2005
"Particularly for those young men and women who have been severely wounded or disabled in the war on terrorism, it is only fitting, proper and fair that they should not have to pay for inpatient or outpatient meals at military facilities."
-Mike Duggan, Deputy Director for National Security, The American Legion
Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
In 2005, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it would contact veterans with severe PTSD and ask them to prove that they deserved their disability payments. This review of disability claims was highly disruptive to veterans still suffering serious health effects from their military service. Senator Obama fought this review. He and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) passed legislation to limit it and helped publicly pressure the agency to finally abandon the effort in November of 2005.
Senator Obama also worked with Senator Bill Frist (R-TN) to pass an amendment ensuring 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.
"We are very concerned about the injuries caused by improvised explosive devices, especially the Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). TBI is fast becoming a major problem for many veterans. We urge the Senate to adopt an amendment sponsored by Senator Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to add TBI to the list of post-deployment physical and mental health screenings for soldiers returning home from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars."
-Bobby Muller, Director of Veterans for America
Easing the Transition of New Veterans into Society
In September 2006, Senator Obama introduced the Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act, which would help veterans transition from the Pentagon 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 would improve transition services for members of the National Guard and Reserves. It also would require the VA and the Department of Defense to work together to track new veterans entering the VA for better budget planning and monitoring of emerging health trends.
Senator Obama passed an amendment that became law requiring the Defense Department 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.
"(The electronic health records) amendment is a first step in easing the transition of a service member's medical records from DoD to the VA when a service member is discharged."
-Veterans for America