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Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. MICHAUD. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise today in strong support of H.R. 1627, as amended, the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012. This bill represents the hard work of both Chambers and of both sides of the aisle.

I want to thank Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Filner, as well as Senator Murray and Senator Burr and all of my colleagues on the Veterans' Affairs Committees in both Chambers, for all of the work that went into crafting this legislation.

This bill provides health care benefits to veterans and family members who have suffered illnesses due to exposure to harmful chemicals through drinking contaminated water while stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

This bill also provides important improvements to enable the VA to better care for veterans living in rural areas. These veterans constitute 40 percent of the veterans who seek care at VA. These improvements include: waiving the collections of copayments for veterans who use telehealth or telemedicine services; authorizing VA to pay travel benefits to veterans seeking care at vet centers; requiring VA to establish and operate Centers of Excellence for rural health research, education, and clinical activities; finally, requiring VA to create a system for the consultation and assessment of mental health, traumatic brain injury, and other conditions through teleconsultation.

A provision I am particularly proud of will improve the care provided to our elderly veterans and to those who are 70-percent disabled or higher in our State veterans' nursing homes.

This bill makes improvements in the area of veterans' benefits and the claims process. One such improvement, a provision based on a measure introduced by Ranking Member Filner, enables a veteran or a family member, on an appeal, to waive the current requirement that new evidence be first considered by the VA. This provision would enable the Board of Veterans' Appeals to review evidence submitted directly to it instead of waiting for a redecision at the agency level.

This bill includes important housing provisions as well. One provision would help veterans with vision impairments and veterans residing temporarily in housing owned by a family member by aligning VA's definition of ``blindness'' with the definition of ``blindness'' under existing Federal laws.

This bill provides that the amount made available to veterans who receive a temporary residence adaptation grant is not counted against the maximum allowable under the Specially Adapted Housing program. Also, this bill makes permanent the authority of VA to guarantee adjustable rate and hybrid rate mortgages.

Mr. Speaker, I have only highlighted a few of the important parts of this bill that were found in H.R. 1627, as amended. I would encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this very important veterans' measure.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. MICHAUD. Mr. Speaker, I am particularly pleased with this package because it also includes legislation that I have been working on for well over 2 years that will ensure that our severely disabled and elderly veterans are able to get the care they need. Specifically, my bill requires the VA to enter into contracts or provider agreements with State Veterans Nursing Homes in order to get the reimbursement that they adequately need to take care of our veterans.

Without this legislation, State Veterans Homes will not get reimbursed properly for the services they provide for our veterans. According to data from the National Association of State Veterans Homes, the average rate for care is roughly $359 per veteran per day, while VA only reimburses the homes $235 per day. This difference of $124 per day amounts to over $45,000 per year for each covered veteran. And with approximately 25,000 beds nationwide, the financial burden on State Veterans Homes could become crippling.

Passing this legislation into law will ensure that our State Veterans Homes are paid adequately for the services they provide and can continue to serve our veterans that are in need of those services.

I want to thank Chairman Miller and Ranking Member Filner for their support of this bill and for working to bring this legislation to the floor. Our veterans will be better off as a result.

I also would like to thank Chairwoman Buerkle for her efforts as well, working in a bipartisan manner, and staff on both the majority and minority sides for bringing this bill forward,

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for Mr. Miller. He had mentioned earlier about a colloquy. If those colloquies are entered separately, will that be made a part of the Record?

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Mr. MICHAUD. Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague about section 102 of the bill. That provides medical care for certain medical conditions for veterans and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune from 1957 through 1987.

There is one provision applicable to family members where VA would reimburse family members for health care services provided under this section but only after they exhaust reasonably available alternative reimbursements.

I want to ensure that this language is not read to mean that family members must actually file suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act or even come to end of litigation under a suit filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act to ensure the medical care offered by this provision. Can my colleague confirm this?

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