2008 MILITARY CONSTRUCTION, VETERANS AFFAIRS, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS BILL -- (Extensions of Remarks - June 28, 2007)
* Mr. HOLT. Madam Speaker, I'm pleased the House has acted on this important legislation.
* I want to compliment my colleague, the chairman of this subcommittee, Mr. Edwards of Texas, for the work he and his colleagues put into this bill. The priorities in this bill send a strong message to our military servicemembers and our veterans that we are serious about honoring our obligations to them.
* To help deal with the constant problem of medical inflation and the rising costs of health care, this bill provides $37,122,000,000 for the Veterans' Health Administration--an increase of $4,442,265,000 or 13.6 percent over the FY 2007 level and $2,509,329,000 more than the President requested. This increase is long overdue and vitally needed.
* Since the attacks on 9/11, more than 1.5 million American military personnel have been deployed in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. When those men and women eventually separate from the service, a large number of them will require ongoing medical care for the wounds and injuries they've suffered in service to our country, particularly for mental health needs and traumatic brain injuries, TBI. This bill provides $604,325,858 to increase funding for treatment in these areas.
* We all know that TBI has, tragically, become the signature injury of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to providing an overall higher level of funding for medical care for all veterans, this bill directs that all future budget requests include TBI as a Select Program--in other words, as a dedicated line item. That designation will help ensure that TBI treatment and rehabilitation programs receive the funding and focus required to meet the needs of veterans who are living with this life-altering injury.
* This bill also recognizes that substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, are plaguing record numbers of veterans. The National Center for PTSD has reported that 58 percent of veterans who have substance abuse problems also have lifetime PTSD and are three times more likely to have PTSD than veterans who do not suffer from substance abuse disorders. To deal with this challenge, the bill provides $428,873,754 for the Substance Abuse Program, an increase of $70,880,754 over the President's request.
* Finally, this bill contains an important accountability provision that the Bush administration opposed.
* Specifically, the committee mandates in this bill that the Department of Veterans Affairs provide quarterly reports on the financial status and service level status of the VHA and each of its Veterans Integrated Service Networks, VISNs. The reports must contain the time required for new patients to get their first appointment, the time required for established patients to get their next appointment, the number of patients on wait lists for inpatient services or any mental health or substance abuse program, the number of staff shortages for mental health services, the planned and actual expenditure rates for contracted mental health care, and the number of unique veterans and patients being served. Specific reports on the blind rehabilitation service, OIF/OEF veterans, prosthetics, and substance abuse programs are also mandated in this bill.
* I am pleased that Chairman Edwards and his colleagues are taking this approach to auditing the VA's programs. We all know that veterans are waiting longer to get their first or follow up appointments with their primary care providers. These provisions will help us establish just how serious the problem is and whether inadequate resources, poor management, or both are contributing to these delays in the delivery of vital health care services to our veterans. For these and the other reasons I've cited, I look forward to this bill's final passage by the Congress.