Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and good morning.
We have a number of important veterans' bills before us today and I look forward to hearing from several of my colleagues, our friends from various veterans' service organizations, and representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to address their potential merits and/or unintended consequences.
Our Ranking Member, Steve Buyer is the sponsor of two of the bills on the agenda -- H.R. 5641, the Heroes at Home Act and H.R. 6127, the Extension of Health Care Eligibility for Veterans who Served at Qarmat (Car-mot) Ali Act. Unfortunately, Steve is unable to be here this morning and I ask unanimous consent that his statement be included in the record.
In his absence, I would like to take a few minutes to explain these important legislative initiatives.
H.R. 5641, the Heroes at Home Act, would increase the long-term care options for veterans by allowing VA to enter into a contract with a certified adult foster home to pay for the long-term care of veterans already eligible for VA-paid nursing home care.
Medical foster homes are non-institutional settings that provide a personalized approach to long-term care. Veterans who choose medical foster home care reside in the home of their chosen foster home caregiver who in turn provides that veteran with around-the-clock care and company.
Each prospective caregiver is required to pass a VA screening, federal background check, and home inspection and must agree to undergo annual caregiver training and regular announced and unannounced home visits by VA's adult foster home coordinators and professionals from VA's Home Care Team. In addition, each veteran must agree to enroll in VA's Home Health Services to provide added support.
As the need for long-term care grows, it will become increasingly important to provide our honored veterans with options that allow them to make the care choice that best fits their needs. VA has been assisting veterans in obtaining medical foster home care since 2002 and many of the veterans who benefitted from this unique service have service-connected disability ratings that entitle them to VA-paid long-term care.
H.R. 5641 would authorize VA to contract with medical foster homes to cover the costs of care for those veterans already eligible for VA provided nursing home care.
H.R. 6127, the Extension of Health Care Eligibility for Veterans who Served at Qarmat Ali Act, is legislation that is particularly dear to the veterans in my home state. It would extend the VA health care enrollment period by five years for veterans who served at Qarmat (Car-mot) Ali, Iraq and were notified of possible exposure to a toxic chemical known as sodium dichromate.
Not long after the conflict in Iraq began, Army National Guard units from South Carolina -- my home state - as well as units from Indiana, Oregon, West Virginia, and individual augmentees from 17 other states across the nation were called to serve at the Qarmat (Car-mot) Ali water treatment facility.
Unfortunately, these veterans recently received notification by VA that during their service they may have been exposed to a toxic chemical which could result in a number of serious respiratory issues, skin lesions, burns, and other ear, nose, throat, and skin disorders.
While these veterans were eligible to enroll in VA health care for five years after separation from service, those who reentered civilian life following their 2003 deployment would have been required to enroll by 2008 -- a full two years before initial notification of the potential exposure and subsequent health risk.
It is essential that these veterans have immediate access to VA's high quality health care system in order to receive preventative care and services to improve health outcomes and quality of life.
Further, my good friend and colleague from Florida, Mr. Stearns, also has two bills before us today concerning important preventative care methods to improve the health and well-being of American veterans. I thank him for his leadership on this Subcommittee and anticipate hearing his comments and further discussion of these initiatives.
I want to thank my many colleagues who have sponsored the bills on our agenda this morning and all of the witnesses who have taken the time to participate today. I yield back the balance of my time.