VETERANS HEALTH PROGRAMS IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 2004 -- (House of Representatives - November 17, 2004)
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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, as a member of the VA Subcommittee on Health, I also rise in support of H.R. 3936 which includes, as we have heard, a lot of provisions to enhance services to our Nation's veterans. We have thanked the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Evans) and the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Simmons).
I would particularly like to just thank the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Rodriguez), the ranking member, for his service. I always say, when I get to the committee meetings, "Ciro, you're my hero." The gentleman from Texas, for the 8 years he has been here, has fought steadfastly for his veterans not only in San Antonio but in the United States as a whole. He has done a tremendous amount for health care for our veterans in this Nation, and we thank him for his service. We are going to miss him.
One of the important provisions of this bill is to set up a pilot program to study new and innovative ways to improve the recruitment and retention of nurses at the VA. We all know about the shortage of nurses in our Nation, and we cannot rely on the old methods of recruitment. The use of online technology, for example, can be a valuable tool in finding nurses who are interested in serving the country through their work at a VA medical facility.
Likewise, we have to find ways to keep the nurses that we recruit. A second bill that is before us after this has a provision in fact for alternative work schedules for nurses. Allowing nurses to work these flexible hours to accommodate personal and family needs is a sure way to improve their lives and to encourage them to continue working at the VA center. In addition, this bill provides payments to States to assist State veterans homes in their hiring and retention of nurses.
I think we all know that funding for grants is vital for homeless veterans. That program will be authorized in this bill at a level of $99 million, an increase of $24 million. Although we all know that even more funding is needed to assist the homeless veterans of our Nation, this authorization is a welcome increase. Homelessness among veterans is a national disgrace. I know we are all firmly behind the gentleman from New Jersey's goal of eliminating chronic homelessness within the veterans population in 10 years. This bill will help us reach that goal.
The bill also gives permanent authority to the VA Secretary to continue the military sexual trauma counseling program that was established in 1992. As we have heard, this program provides counseling and treatment for the men and women who have experienced sexual trauma or harassment while in the military service. Again, the gentleman from Texas was a major supporter of this program, and we thank him for his leadership once again.
Funding to open several new outpatient clinics is included in this bill, including two in San Diego County, a portion of which I represent. The VA's move to open clinics near veterans' homes has been overwhelmingly successful.
I will also continue work for a full outpatient health clinic in Imperial County, which is also in my congressional district.
I should add that, as we look at the ways we fund outpatient clinics, the formulas used involve only population. We ought to also, I think, include "isolation" of a county or an area because that is also important, not just the numbers.
These are a few of the provisions in H.R. 3936. Health care of our veterans has to be a priority all the time but especially at this time when we have so many active duty soldiers fighting for this Nation. Whether they are from World War II or from the present conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are looking to us to meet their needs. Morale in active duty depends on how we are going to treat our soldiers when they come home, so I hope everyone supports H.R. 3936.