McCaskill Votes for Increased Funding for Veterans Care
Also boosts funds used to reimburse veterans who must travel to receive care
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill voted today to significantly increase funding for veterans' care and benefits with the passage of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act (H.R. 2642), which passed with 92 supporting votes and only one no vote. The legislation, which funds the Department of Veterans Affairs and Military Construction for the 2008 fiscal year, includes $6.5 billion more for veterans than 2007 and will help ensure that Missouri veterans receive top-notch care and treatment. The funding boost also included an increase for the reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who travel to receive VA health care. Many veterans shared their frustration with the current mileage rates with McCaskill during a statewide veterans tour she undertook in late May.
The $87.5 billion provided for the Department of Veterans Affairs includes funding increases that will help reduce the current backlog in veterans' claims processing and improve and increase access to polytrauma rehabilitation programs, mental health services, and readjustment counseling.
"Veterans deserve first-class care," McCaskill said. "This additional funding will allow the VA to give veterans better access to care and higher quality treatment at a time when we have brave men and women returning from war."
Specifically, the bill would:
- Provide $87.5 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs - $3.6 billion more than requested by the President and $6.5 billion more than appropriated for 2007.
- Provide $44.6 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) - $3.2 billion more than allocated for 2007. Includes $131 million to hire 500 additional claims processors to address the veterans claim backlog.
- Provide $37.2 billion for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) - $2.6 billion more than the President requested. This increase in funding will primarily help improve and increase access to polytrauma rehabilitation programs, mental health services, PTSD treatment, TBI treatment and readjustment counseling.
- Provides over $4 billion for VA medical facilities operations and maintenance and $1.5 billion for major and minor construction to ensure Vets have first class facilities for care.
- Provides $125 million to boost the travel reimbursement rate for disabled vets who have to drive long distances to receive VA health care.
In addition, McCaskill joined Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) in offering an amendment that allocates $125 million to increase the travel reimbursement rate for disabled veterans who must drive long distances to receive VA health care. The rate has not been adjusted in nearly three decades, with disabled veterans currently receiving only 11 cents per mile. Earlier this year, McCaskill heard directly from Missouri veterans about how the current rate is causing financial strain during her four-day, 15-city veterans listening tour of the state. The extra $125 million provided by the amendment will allow the VA to increase their reimbursement rates significantly.
"Our disabled veterans should not have to reach into their own pocket to receive care they were promised," McCaskill said. "Patients in rural areas have waited far too long for this change, and this will move us closer to that goal."
The legislation also included a provision offered by McCaskill to make it easier for the general public to gain access to VA oversight reports through their website. The amendment requires the VA to place a direct link to the department's Inspector General website on its home page within 30 days, as well as provide an easily accessible place for people to anonymously report waste fraud and abuse.