Shalala and Dole Provide Details on Commission Recommendations to House VA Committee
Kristal DeKleer (202) 225-9756
Washington, D.C. - Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, held a hearing on Wednesday to address the findings and recommendations of the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors. Secretary Donna Shalala and Senator Bob Dole served as co-chairs of the Commission and appeared before the Committee to provide further detail about their research and findings.
"I would like to take the opportunity to thank those that participated in the thorough and exhaustive examination of the needs of our wounded service men and women," said Chairman Filner. "My concerns are focused on how we serve our troops when they turn from the Pentagon to the VA for their health care. In order for our troops to experience the seamless transition they deserve, the bureaucratic problems that prevent many from getting the care they need must be addressed."
The Commission was established in March 2007 to investigate problems at Walter Reed and examine whether similar problems exist at other military and veterans' hospitals. The Commission issued its final report in July 2007 and offered six recommendations to improve and modernize the structure of veterans' benefits programs.
"Our six recommendations do not require massive new programs or a flurry of new legislation," said Secretary Shalala. "We identify 34 specific action steps that must be taken to implement the six recommendations. Only six of these 34 items require legislation, and that is what we will focus on today."
The list of legislative proposals include improving access to care for service members with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, strengthening support for military families, amending the Family and Medical Leave Act to extend unpaid leave from 12 weeks to six months for a family member of a wounded veteran, revising the DoD and VA disability systems to require only one physical exam, providing health care coverage for service members found unfit because of service related conditions, and changing the existing disability payment system by revising the three types of payments currently provided to many veterans.
"I really believe, and I can say this having voted on a lot of military and veterans bill, having met on other commissions, having been a service officer in my younger years, and having worked hard to help veterans in the Legion and the VFW, that these are really bold action steps," said Senator Dole. "They will do justice for our brave service members fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. I also believe the actions, which support our six recommendations, will benefit past and future generations of American service members."
The Commissioners visited 23 Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and private-sector treatment facilities. Members of the Commission met with injured service members and their families, health care professionals, and managers of military and veterans' programs. The Commission conducted a national survey of active duty, reserve component, and retired, medically retired, or separated service members and veterans treated for wounds from service in Iraq and Afghanistan that led to evacuation back to the United States. More than 1,700 injured service members responded - a 30 percent response rate. There were over 1,250 letters and emails from stakeholders.
"We must consider new methods, open up the broader thought process and discuss creative and thoughtful solutions to the problems facing our veterans," said Chairman Filner. "I want to thank Secretary Shalala and Senator Dole for their plan. It is time to take bold action to honor the commitments made to our veterans."