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Returning Service Member VA Healthcare Insurance Act of 2007

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


RETURNING SERVICE MEMBER VA HEALTHCARE INSURANCE ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - May 23, 2007)

Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 612) to amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the period of eligibility for health care for combat service in the Persian Gulf War or future hostilities from two years to five years after discharge or release, as amended.

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, not all of the returning veterans from the OEF/OIF suffer from obvious wounds. Those who suffer from an external injury are readily identified and receive immediate care for that injury. However, many of our returning veterans, and on this I include, Mr. Speaker, Guard and Reserve units who have been ordered to combat, are coming back with injuries that are not external. They are hidden wounds of the war, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, forms of brain injury, which may not be evident without further diagnosis, which may not be evident to the soldier or to the doctor looking at him.

Unlike the physical wounds, mental wounds are not easily identified and may go undetected. PTSD is a mental health condition that is triggered by a traumatic event which causes an intense fear and/or helplessness. Some of the symptoms for this condition include reexperiencing the trauma through nightmares, obsessive thoughts, flashbacks. We know that this condition may not reveal itself for many months or maybe for years after experiencing the event.

We listened to veterans, veteran service organizations, family members, and we heard them say that their returning veterans needed more time to access the VA health care system when they came home from war.

Conditions like PTSD and traumatic brain injury are the driving force behind this bill, the Returning Service member VA Healthcare Insurance Act of 2007. It extends from 2 years to 5 years following discharge or release the eligibility period for veterans. And, as I said, we include Guard and Reserve units all those who served in combat during or after the Persian Gulf War are eligible to receive hospital care, medical services, or nursing home care provided by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. It provides for an additional 3 years of eligibility for veterans discharged more than 5 years before the enactment of this act who may not have enrolled in the VA health care system.

This system is recognized throughout the country, and indeed the world, as providing safe quality health care to our veterans. Two years was simply not enough time for returning OEF/OIF veterans to utilize this very important benefit. We are fixing that with this piece of legislation. It is a bill that will have a profound effect most immediately on our veterans returning from war. I urge my colleagues to support the bill.

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the ranking member for his helpful amendment to this bill. As I said earlier, this is a very important bill to thousands and thousands of returning veterans. They have basically unfettered access to one of the best health care systems in the world without going through a lot of red tape, without going through a lot of paperwork to prove that they are eligible. They will have 5 years.

And it is most important for our Reserve and Guard units, who are not eligible for the benefit structure of the VA system. They are not eligible for most of the benefits of the GI bill. And we are trying to make an effort to bring them in under the VA benefits under what we call ``total force structure.''

So this bill is important to thousands of people, those that are coming back from the Marines or Army and those that are in the Guard and Reserve units. All of them now will have 5 years where these hidden injuries, brain injury, or post-traumatic stress disorder may become evident, and they may seek help. Now they will be able to do it without any of the bureaucratic entanglements. And I think this will have a remarkable impact on the lives of our Nation's veterans.

And I will tell you, as George Washington said more than 200 years ago, ``The morale of our fighting troops is dependent, most of all, on how they feel they're going to be treated when they come home.'' When they know they will have 5 years to come to the VA, they will know that a Nation is caring for them and is responsive to their needs.

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Mr. FILNER. I would ask, Mr. Speaker, unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks and include extraneous material on H.R. 612, as amended.

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Perlmutter). Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from California?

There was no objection.

Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to unanimously support this bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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