Issue Position: Veterans
"Whether serving in peacetime or during conflict, our nation's veterans trained and worked long hours, often times spent long periods away from their families, and served loyally to defend our country. Our nation's democracy and freedom exist because of the achievements and sacrifices of our veterans. We owe them an immeasurable amount of gratitude." - Senator Joe Biden
THE BIDEN PLAN: RESPECTING THOSE WHO PROTECT US
What our wounded veterans need, more than anything else, is the best medical care our country can offer. Senator Biden believes our nation has the highest obligation to provide proper medical care for the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who bear the physical and emotional scars of serving their country at war.
* Ensuring Adequate Facilities and Medical Budgets Now and In the Future: Unfortunately, a series of articles in The Washington Post exposed delays in care that soldiers face and highlighted horrible living conditions that many endure while they are receiving outpatient treatment for their wounds. Senator Biden supports legislation that takes specific actions to ensure a similar situation won't happen again, and that readies our hospitals for the new, special needs of our troops for decades to come, by:
o Prohibiting public-private competitions of maintenance services at military medical complexes while the Nation is at war to prevent the backlog of maintenance orders that plagued Walter Reed.
o Stopping budget cuts to military medical facilities while the Nation is at war.
o Requiring the Secretary of Defense to establish uniform standards for military medical treatment facilities, specialty medical care facilities, and military quarters housing patients, and requiring robust inspections.
o Requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to report on long-term care needs for the next 50 years, since hundreds of thousands of additional veterans with multiple care needs will be coming into the system, and we must be ready to help them.
* Securing Family Involvement and Stability: Senator Biden knows that the emotional support that family members give their loved ones, along with the personal, medical and convalescent care they provide, is invaluable and goes a long way in a wounded soldier's recovery. Senator Biden believes that we must ensure that family members of our wounded warriors are not forced to choose between providing care for their loved ones or keeping their jobs. Senator Biden has cosponsored legislation that:
o Guarantees 12-months of Family and Medical Leave coverage for families of injured soldiers.
o Provides federal protections for the jobs of family members who are caring for recovering love ones.
o Extends medical care to family members while they are living at military treatment facilities.
o Extends employment services to care-giving family members.
o Strengthens existing anonymous crisis counseling and respite services.
* Addressing Emerging Needs: Soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom are suffering traumatic brain injuries (TBI) at much higher rates than past wars and many also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To address the growing demand for TBI and PTSD services and other needs of our Armed Forces and veterans, Senator Biden has sponsored legislation that would:
o Establish a protocol for pre-deployment assessment and documentation of cognitive function of members that can be used for comparison after deployment to assist in the diagnosis of TBI.
o Require the Secretary of Defense to establish two centers of excellence - one for TBI and one for PTSD.
o Authorize the use of non-VA facilities for the implementation of rehabilitation and community reintegration plans for veterans with TBI, allowing veterans to get the care they need, wherever they live.
* Improving Patient Care: Believing we owe our returning troops the highest quality care for they have made every kind of sacrifice for us, Senator Biden has sponsored legislation that would:
o Direct the DOD/VA Interagency Program Office to develop and implement a joint electronic health record.
o Increase the number of caseworkers and requiring that the ratio of case managers to patients must not exceed 1 to 20. Senator Biden would also require that case managers be properly trained so they can better assist their patients in navigating the VA system.
o Authorize medically retired service members to receive the active duty health care benefit for 3 years.
o Streamline and revise the Physical Disability Evaluation System by bringing it all under one command, creating injury specific PDES procedures, making it accessible entirely online.
o Require the creation of a single manual for outpatient care services, including PDES, family support, personnel processing and finance requirement, which is available online.
o Establish a board to review disability determinations of service members separated between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2009, with a disability rating of 20% or less.
* Cutting the Backlog of Veterans Claims: Senator Biden has fought to reduce the unacceptably large backlog of veterans' claims that continue to cause undue hardships for veterans and their families by co-sponsoring legislation that would add resources and staff to more effectively process claims.
THE BIDEN RECORD: 3 DECADES OF KEEPING THE PROMISE
* Ensuring Delaware Veterans Have Access to VA Facilities: Senator Biden knows how important it is for Delaware's veterans to be able to access needed health care services in their own state. As such, the Senator fought to ensure that the VA hospital in Elsmere remained open and did not suffer cutbacks in services during the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) review of VA facilities around the country. Senator Biden is currently fighting for outpatient facilities to be opened in Kent and Sussex counties.
* Guaranteeing Funding for Health Care: A top priority of veterans groups, and one Senator Biden has consistently supported, is to change the budget for the Veterans Administration, so they are guaranteed a proper budget, and do not have to fight every year for money. He would have a mandatory formula for allocating money to the VA, instead of having their budget be a discretionary item that can be cut. The Administration grossly underestimated the number of Iraq veterans requiring care, but Senator Biden helped to pass a double-digit funding increase, as recommended by several veterans' service organizations.
* Helping Veterans With Agent Orange Related Illness: For three decades Senator Biden has worked to get veterans of Vietnam who were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins access to the care and benefits they deserve. He has pressured the VA to resolve claims, expanded compensation for veterans injured by exposure, extended eligibility for inpatient and outpatient care and worked to make sure that children suffering from Spina Bifida because of parent exposure to Agent Orange are eligible for disability benefits. He will continue to fight to make sure our Vietnam veterans receive adequate care and benefits and ensure that the best available medical and scientific evidence is used by the VA when determining disability claims.
* Advocating for Concurrent Receipt: Senator Biden believes there is no reason for one payment to reduce the other. He has repeatedly co-sponsored legislation to authorize full concurrent receipt, allowing disabled military retirees to receive full military retirement pay in addition to VA disability compensation.
* Helping Military Retirees, Reservists With TRICARE: Senator Biden has supported numerous measures to allow federal civilian and military retirees to pay TRICARE health insurance on a pre-tax basis; and has supported extending TRICARE coverage to Reservists who have no other source of health insurance.
* Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans: When our service men and women return from Iraq they will need jobs, and Senator Biden has always championed efforts to increase job opportunities for members after they leave the service. He co-sponsored legislation to establish the Troops to Nurse Teachers program, encouraging nurse veterans to become nurse teachers.
* Celebrating Veterans: Too many American children lack family ties to the military. Senator Biden wants to better educate America's youth on the accomplishments of our veterans. Every year he has introduced a resolution designating National Veterans Awareness Week, the week of Veterans Day.
* Honoring Our World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War Veterans: Senator Biden co-sponsored the legislation to build the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War Memorials, and throughout his career has supported numerous measures to honor the service and dedication of the country's soldiers and veterans. He also co-sponsored legislation several times to grant a federal charter to the Korean War Veterans Association.
* Extending Eligibility to Combat Veterans: Senator Biden voted in favor of H.R. 4986, the National Defense Authorization Act, which included provisions to extend special eligibility coverage for OIF/OEF veterans from 2 to 5 years of VA health care.