As a Vietnam veteran, I understand the importance of constantly working to improve health care for our veterans. I work closely with the Veterans Administration (VA) to ensure that our nation lives up to its commitment to provide for them.
All of us are deeply grateful for the sacrifices and service our veterans have provided our nation. By keeping faith with our veterans, we keep faith with their families and also with our young warfighters who carry on the fight of freedom every day.
From 1995 to 2007, VA funding increased by 96 percent from $38.2 billion to $74.5 billion. For 2009, Congress allocated $47.7 billion for veterans' medical care. The figure represents a $4.6 billion increase over 2008. With the funding, the VA anticipated treating 5.8 million patients in 2009. VA funding and demand on the VA medical system rose in 2010.
Some notable provisions of last year's funding include:
* $3.8 billion for mental health services for men and women with mental illness or who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.
* $568 million to increase the enrollment of low to middle income veterans.
* $130 million to help homeless veterans.
* $58 million for medical research of trauma, traumatic brain injury, mental health, and other areas critical to providing the best treatment for our war veterans.
* Funding to hire 2100 new processors to reduce wait times for claims.
As a veteran and a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I make it a priority to meet with the men and women in uniform across New Jersey, at military bases at home and abroad,, in Iraq, and Afghanistan and throughout the world. I know how important these new benefits are to them and am proud that Democrats and Republicans were able to work together on this legislation.
I am committed to working to provide improved benefits to veterans and their families. Part of this effort is to improve health care coverage- especially at Lyons, East Orange Veterans Medical Centers and at the Morris County Outpatient facility in Morris Township.
Through my efforts, Lyons VA opened a new, state-of-the-art Ambulatory Care Center in 2005 for outpatient care and a Domiciliary Care facility to provide homeless veterans with housing, job training placement, medical and psychiatric assistance, and help with medical claims.
I continue to work closely with elected officials in Somerset County to enhance the "Hope for Veterans" program at Lyons VA in Bernards Township. The program provides employment services, training, substance abuse counseling, and transitional housing for veterans who have been left homeless as a result of mental illness or substance abuse.
In July of 2008, with my strong support, Congress modernized the GI Bill of Rights for the first time since 1984. Under the improved program, servicemen and women now have the opportunity to transfer education benefits to members of their family. Under the old law, education benefits had to be used by the person who served. For the first time, this legislation makes National Guard and Reserve members eligible for fully GI Bill benefits. These men and women, all volunteers, are serving our country across the globe, and it was important make sure their benefits match their sacrifice.
Our military veterans deserve our thanks and appreciation. For Congress, this means providing them with quality benefits and services, including affordable medical care and opportunities for higher education. Most importantly, it means setting the highest possible standard for the level of attention and care they receive, so that today's military -- and those who step up tomorrow, all volunteers -- know they will not be forgotten.
That's my promise to those who have served and to their families.