VETERANS' HEALTH CARE IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 2007
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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, as with the last bill, I want to just thank both the chair, Mr. Michaud of Maine, and the ranking member, Mr. Miller from Florida, for their great leadership and bipartisan cooperation to get an important piece of legislation out.
This bill, the Veterans' Health Care Improvement Act of 2007, combines a lot of different ideas from Members on both sides of the aisle, and we are pleased to have this bill on the floor today.
Certainly, the mental health and well-being of our newest generation of veterans is a serious cause for concern and deserves our fullest attention.
The VA reported in April of this year that of the OEF/OIF veterans who have separated and sought health care through the VA, mental disorders rank second of frequency of possible diagnoses amongst these veterans.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, is the number one health concern. At this point, over 39,000 returning veterans have received a provisional diagnosis of this, and we are looking into, in fact, maybe a systemic underestimation of those who are diagnosed and, therefore, to get treatment.
Mr. Speaker, the composition of the fighting forces in Iraq and Afghanistan today is unique from past conflicts. Guard and Reserve forces make up a large percentage of those fighting, around 50 percent or a little more. Though only 19 percent of the Nation lives in rural America, 44 percent of U.S. military recruits come from rural areas.
We must ensure that their health care and services meet the needs that they deserve and have earned. It must be available and accessible to all, and I would say we will take up as a committee the broad subject of rural veterans sometime in the near future.
This bill requires the VA to award grants to conduct workshop programs to help heal and better the lives of veterans who need it through therapeutic programs such as art, writing and music to name just a few. It establishes a grant program to provide transportation options to veterans living in rural areas that will help to lessen the burden on veterans who are unable to drive long distances due to their disability or illness.
It also provides permanent authority to the VA to treat veterans who are subject to chemical and biological testing. This is an obligation we owe to those who have served.
We provide also for readjustment counseling and mental health services. We include contracting with community mental health centers in areas not adequately served by VA and contracting with nonprofit mental health organizations to train OEF/OIF veterans in outreach and peer support.
We address issues affecting homeless veterans and their families. The VA has now become the largest single provider of direct services to homeless veterans, reaching 25 percent of homeless veterans a year through various programs. Our aim is to make it 100 percent. Many communities have recently gone through what they call stand-downs, 2- or 3-day efforts to bring the whole community in cooperation to provide the services that homeless veterans need, whether they be medical or dental or legal or drug abuse counseling, of course, food and clothing; and we do that in 3 days a year in many communities. It is up to the VA to do that 365 days a year for all our veterans, and we estimate over 200,000 on the streets tonight who served our Nation.
Prior to becoming homeless, a large number of veterans have struggled with PTSD or had addictions acquired during or worsened by their military service, and we want to expand and extend the counseling services for these veterans. We expand programs to 12 locations throughout the Veterans Health Administration and extend this program through 2011.
The VA domiciliary care programs are an essential piece in assisting veterans and providing needed services to help them recover and become productive citizens again. We enhance in this bill the capacity of such domiciliary care programs, for female veterans especially.
Finally, we want to authorize VA to provide financial assistance to provide supportive services for very low-income veteran families who reside in permanent housing.
In short, Mr. Speaker, H.R. 2874 takes care of the men and women who have so selflessly taken care of us. It provides our veterans with the quality health care programs and services they need and they so richly deserve. It is another down payment, another measurable piece of keeping our promise to those who have kept their promise to us
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.