Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: March 29, 2007
Location: Washington, DC

STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - March 29, 2007)

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By Mr. BIDEN:

S. 1044. A bill to improve the medical care of members of the Armed Forces and veterans, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Armed Services.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I would like to take the opportunity today to introduce an important piece of legislation to improve the ability of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide medical care for our Nation's Armed Forces and veterans. We are currently finishing up a debate in the Senate on additional war time funding for Iraq. As in past years, we are trying to mitigate the damage caused by the failure to properly plan for and manage the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's fall. I have spoken many times about how damaging this lack of planning has been to our efforts in Iraq and to our standing in the world.

For the past two months, the spotlight has shone on another administration failure in this war: the shameful conditions our wounded soldiers face as outpatients navigating the military health system when they return from Iraq or Afghanistan. This is another example of gross mismanagement and a strained system. To alleviate the strain on this system, I am offering legislation today--the Effective Care for the Armed Forces and Veterans Act--to improve the care that members of the Armed Forces and veterans receive at Walter Reed and other military medical facilities.

The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that some of the reasons for concern at Walter Reed do not occur in the future. As the living conditions for outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center indicate, moving to private contracts for maintenance at military medical facilities can cause problems. After a private contract was awarded for maintenance and upkeep of buildings on the campus of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, a maintenance crew of approximately 300 was whittled down to 50 by the time the contract went in to effect. Many of the terrible living conditions in Building 18 that we read about in the Washington Post were a direct result of delays in building repair and maintenance because of a shortage in manpower. To prevent this situation from occurring again, this legislation calls for public-private competitions of maintenance services at military medical complexes to stop while our country is engaged in military conflicts. It also calls for a General Accountability Office review of contracting-out decisions for basic maintenance work at military facilities.

Other problems discovered at Walter Reed are directly attributable to shortages resulting from pressures to cut budgets for military medical services. These cuts cannot be tolerated at a time when military medical services are needed to treat servicemembers who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. As such, this legislation would require medical command budgets to be equal to or exceed the prior year amount while the nation is involved in a major military conflict or war.

Another issue that the conditions at Walter Reed brought up is whether or not the facility should be closed as the Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended. The Commission recommended building new, modern facilities at the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda and at Fort Belvoir to improve the overall quality of care and access to care in this region. Military leaders have indicated that the planned closure has limited their ability to attract needed professionals to jobs at Walter Reed and there have been concerns raised whether adequate housing for the families of the wounded has been properly planned. To deal with that, this legislation requires the Department of Defense to submit to Congress within one year a detailed plan that includes an evaluation of the following: the desirability of being able to guarantee professional jobs in the D.C. area for two years or more following the closure in order to foster a stable workforce; detailed construction plans for the new facilities and for new family housing; and the costs and benefits of building all of the needed medical treatment, rehabilitation, and housing before a single unit is moved.

Another major problem and source of frustration for injured soldiers is the length of time it takes to receive a disability determination. In order to hasten the disability determination process, we need to ensure that the Department of Defense has information systems capable of communicating with those in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA has been a leader in implementing electronic medical record keeping, but we have to improve the capability of the Department of Defense to send electronic medical records to the VA to speed up the disability determination process. Making the disability determination system more efficient can reduce the stress on the soldiers and their families going through the determination process.

Caseworkers are also critical. They schedule appointments and make sure wounded servicemembers get the rehabilitative and follow-up care they need. As more and more soldiers and marines come home wounded, many military caseworkers are overwhelmed. To improve the care given to servicemembers, this legislation requires a minimum ratio of case managers to patients of 1 to 20, that case managers have contact with recovering servicemembers at least once a week, and that case managers be properly trained on the military's disability and discharge systems so they can better assist patients with their paperwork.

Currently, many combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have service-related mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Many have labeled TBI the ``signature injury'' of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. It is estimated that as many as 10 percent of those serving or who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have brain injuries. That would mean about 150,000 of the 1.5 million soldiers and marines who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom have suffered a brain injury. In many cases, these injuries are not diagnosed because there is not an external wound. Depending on the severity of these injuries, returning soldiers can require immediate treatment or not have symptoms show up until several years later. This legislation calls for every returning soldier to be screened for TBI. While the VA has announced plans to do this, it needs to happen in active-duty military medical facilities too. In addition, the legislation calls for a study on the advisability of treating TBI as a presumptive condition in every service's disability evaluation system, as well as the VA disability evaluation system.

We often hear about the 25,000 soldiers and marines who have been wounded in these wars--but that figure grossly underestimates the demand that the VA health care system faces. Since our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, more than 1.5 million soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, and other locations. Of these, 630,000 are now veterans and, according to the Department of Defense, more than 205,000 have already received medical treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs. A recent Harvard study on the long-term costs of treating these new veterans estimates that by 2012 more than 643,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan will be using the VA system, an almost three-fold increase of what the system faces now. With a significant backlog of claims currently existing, the system is in desperate need of an upgrade. To address this concern, my legislation directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to submit to Congress a plan for the long-term care needs for veterans for the next 50 years.

It is our highest obligation to heal the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who will bear the physical and emotional scars of these wars for the rest of their lives. Those of us who have the privilege of serving in Congress must act now to improve the medical care we provide to our Armed Forces and veterans.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the legislation be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S. 1044

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By Mr. BIDEN:

S. 1055. A bill to promote the future of the American automobile industry, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Finance.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, today I am introducing The American Automobile Industry Promotion Act of 2007 to jump-start next generation battery technology development in the United States and extend incentives to American-made highly efficient vehicles.

This legislation authorizes $100 million a year for 5 years to advance new battery technology--an amount double the administration's current budget request. On a national and international level, we must do whatever it takes to help our domestic auto manufacturers remain competitive.

Right now, the Japanese dominate the market for lithium ion batteries because they invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing this technology and in supporting their domestic industry. And, the Koreans and the Chinese are not far behind. American auto manufacturers are playing catch-up and we need to move quickly.

Specifically, I am proposing to support the development of advanced electric components, systems and vehicles, by providing funds for battery research to national laboratories, small businesses, and institutes of higher learning. The bill will also establish, through a competitive selection process, an Industry Alliance of private, U.S. based, for-profit firms whose primary business is battery development. The Industry Alliance would be an advisory resource on short and long term battery technology development.

The new research initiative will have four major areas of focus: (1) Research and Development including battery technology, high-efficiency charging systems, high-powered drive-train systems, control systems and power train development, and nanomaterial technology for battery and fuel cell systems. (2) Demonstration. The initiative also creates a demonstration program which would devote resources toward demonstration, testing and evaluation of hybrid electric vehicles for many different applications including military, mass market passenger and SUV vehicles. (3) Education. The initiative will support curriculum development in secondary, high school, as well as higher education institutions that focus on electric drive systems and component engineering. (4) Testing. Finally, the initiative would work with the EPA to develop testing and certification procedures for criteria pollutants, fuel economy, and petroleum use in vehicles.

In addition to research and development for the lithium ion battery, the American Automobile Industry Promotion Act will also set a national standard for biodiesel, a cleaner-burning fuel made from natural and renewable sources; and expand tax credit eligibility for consumers who purchase more fuel-efficient diesel vehicles. Today's diesels are cleaner than their predecessors, are in compliance with EPA emissions standards, and are 30 percent more fuel efficient than an equivalent gasoline engine. Specifically, the bill expands the emissions requirements to qualify for a tax credit for various weight diesel vehicles, increasing the number of American-manufactured more fuel efficient diesel vehicles that qualify. This provision would expire in four years, at which time all highly efficient vehicles will have to meet higher emissions standards to qualify for the tax credit.

Now is the time to act. It's not too late, but we do not have the luxury of waiting. If we are ever to be truly competitive in the global auto market and free from our dependence on foreign oil, we must move forward on all fronts.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the legislation be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S. 1055

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By Mr. BIDEN (for himself, Mr. SPECTER, Mr. BROWNBACK, and Mr. LEAHY):

S. 1060. A bill to reauthorize the grant program for reentry of offenders into the community in the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, to improve reentry planning and implementation, and for other purposes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I introduce today with my colleagues Senators SPECTER, BROWNBACK, and LEAHY the Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act of 2007, which takes direct aim at reducing recidivism rates by improving the transition of offenders from prison back into the community. As this bill reflects, preventing recidivism is not only the right thing to do, it makes our communities safer and it saves us money.

Today, we have over two million individuals in our Federal and State prisons and millions more in local jails. Our Federal and State prisons will release nearly 650,000 of these offenders back into our communities this year. A staggering 2/3 of released State prisoners will be rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years of release.

It's not difficult to see why. These ex-offenders face a number of difficult challenges upon release. The unemployment rate among former inmates is as high as 60 percent; 15-27 percent of prisoners expect to go to homeless shelters upon release; and 57 percent of Federal and 70 percent of State inmates used drugs regularly before prison. This addiction and dependency often continues during incarceration.

Unless we address these problems, these individuals will commit hundreds of thousands of serious crimes after their release, and our communities will bear the human and economic cost. If we are going to reduce recidivism and crime, we simply have to make concerted, common-sense efforts now to help ex-offenders successfully reenter and reintegrate into their communities.

The Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act of 2007 confronts head-on the dire situation of prisoners reentering our communities with insufficient monitoring, little or no job skills, inadequate drug treatment, insufficient housing, lack of basic physical and mental health services, and deficient basic life skills. Through commonsense and cost effective measures, it offers a second chance for ex-offenders, and the children and families that depend on them, and it strengthens our communities and ensures safe neighborhoods.

The Second Chance Act provides a competitive grant program to study current approaches to reducing recidivism rates. It also provides grants for the development and implementation of comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs, academic and vocational education programs, housing and job counseling programs, and mentoring for offenders who are approaching release and who have been released. To ensure accountability, the bill requires grantees to establish performance goals and benchmarks and report the results to Congress.

The bill authorizes $192 million per year in competitive grant funding. This represents an investment in our future and an acknowledgement of the problem we face. We must remember that the average cost of incarcerating each prisoner exceeds $20,000 per year, with expenditures on corrections alone having increased from $9 billion in 1982 to $60 billion in 2002. That's more than a six-fold increase, and the costs keep going up.

A relatively modest investment in offender reentry efforts today is far more cost-effective than the alternative--building more prisons for these ex-offenders to return to if they can't reenter their communities and are convicted of further crimes. An ounce of prevention, as the saying goes, is worth a pound of cure.

I'm proud today to join with Senator SPECTER, Senator BROWNBACK, and Senator LEAHY in introducing the Recidivism Reduction and Second Chance Act and ask that our colleagues join with us in this vital effort. The safety of our neighbors, our children, and our communities depends on it.

I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

S. 1060

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