WOUNDED WARRIOR ASSISTANCE ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - July 25, 2007)
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Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, today the Senate adopted, by unanimous consent, legislation that will make a significant difference in the lives of America's wounded warriors and veterans. I applaud the passage of the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act and the 3.5 percent across-the-board pay raise for the men and women of the U.S. military.
This legislation bridges the gap in health care coverage for the severely wounded, and ensures their access to the broadest possible range of health care services. It authorizes additional care and support for families who are caring for the wounded. The bill increases traumatic brain injury care for veterans, and access to mental health evaluations. It requires the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to develop and implement new policy to better manage the care and transition of our wounded soldiers. It also empowers a special board to review disability ratings of 20 percent or less, and to restore to wounded soldiers, if appropriate, a higher disability rating or retired status. And, it authorizes additional funding for traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The disability evaluation systems of the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are out of date and in need of reform. This legislation advances that reform by requiring the immediate initiation of pilot projects to fundamentally change and streamline those antiquated systems. The bill also improves benefits related to administrative separation from the military due to injury, increasing severance pay and eliminating the requirement that severance pay be deducted from VA disability compensation for injuries incurred in a combat zone.
The legislation requires the Secretary of Defense to inspect and improve medical treatment and residential facilities, and to study the accelerated construction of new facilities at the National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, MD.
This legislation is an important step toward restoring trust for America's wounded soldiers and veterans. The Senate can be proud that it has put the needs of wounded warriors and our selfless service men and women ahead of partisanship, jurisdictional boundaries and disagreements over policy. We are now ready to move foward to conference with the House of Representatives and make overdue improvements for our soldiers, their families, and our veterans.
While I am pleased we have been able to take this action today, very critical improvements to defense policy and programs remain in the unfinished work on the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008, which the Democratic Senate leadership pulled from the Senate floor last week because of policy disagreements on Iraq.
Failure to pass the Defense authorization bill will curtail many needed initiatives to support our military personnel and their families and to continue the fight on the global war on terror. Our military forces deployed throughout the world, including Iraq and Afghanistan, need the resources, training, and equipment that this bill would provide. Examples of the important authorities that are being held hostage to the contentious debate on policy in Iraq include: increasing in end-strength for the Army and Marine Corps; providing combat-related special compensation to serve members who are; medically retired because of a combat-related disability; paying over 25 special pays and bonuses designed to improve military recruiting and retention; improving military equipment needed to protect deploying forces, including $4.0 billion for mine-resistant vehicles known as MRAPs; updating Army combat systems and additional funding for armor and aviation survivability equipment; building five warships and funding for Virginia class submarines; increasing the number of Department of Defense and Department of Energy programs to help reduce the threat of nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union falling into the hands of terrorists; encouraging more focused competition for the billions of dollars that the Department of Defense spends on contract services; and providing critical authorities to combatant commanders to address security priorities and support allies, coalition partners, and others in the war on terror.
I call on the Senate leadership to resume consideration of the Defense authorization bill at the earliest possible time, so that these and many other critical pieces of the legislation will become law for the benefit of our troops. Swift passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2008, coupled with support for our wounded warriors and hard-working troops together represent the full measure of support for our military forces that they need, and that they unquestionably deserve.