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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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Location: Washington, DC


STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - March 14, 2005)

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By Mr. SPECTER:

S. 612. A bill to require the Secretary of the Army to award the Combat Medical Badge or another combat badge for Army helicopter medical evacuation ambulance (Medevac) pilots and crews; to the Committee on Armed Services.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to explain briefly the provisions of legislation I have introduced today that would direct the Secretary of the Army to award the Combat Medical Badge (CMB), or a similar badge to be designed by the Secretary of the Army, to pilots and crew of the Army's helicopter medical ambulance units--commonly referred to by their call sign ``DUST OFF''--who have flown combat missions to rescue and aid wounded soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines.

The legacy of the DUST OFF mission was brought to my attention by a group of Pennsylvania constituents who have been sharing the DUST OFF story in an attempt to persuade the Army to recognize the service and sacrifice DUST OFF crews made, especially during the Vietnam War, in saving the lives of thousands of fallen comrades by extracting the wounded from forward positions to bases where they would receive life-saving medical care.

The Army began using helicopters to evacuate wounded soldiers during the Korean War. However, because of their smaller size, Korean War helicopters were used solely as a means of transporting the wounded from the combat zones. It was not until the early 1960's that a group of Army aviators envisioned using the newer, larger, UH-1A ``Huey'' helicopters to serve as mobile air ambulances where a medic and crew could provide life-saving treatment en route to the medical aide station.

The road to establish air ambulance units within the Army was rocky and uncertain. Combat commanders often considered the use of helicopters for this purpose a diversion of valuable resources. However, through determination, skill, and the American fighting spirit, air ambulance crews proved they were a valuable and reliable resource in providing support to the combat mission. Indeed, between 1962 and 1973, DUST OFF crews evacuated more than 900,000 allied military personnel and Vietnamese civilian casualties to medical assistance sites.

Captain John Temperelli, Jr. was the first commander of the 57th Medical Detachment, Helicopter Ambulance, who would lead the first DUST OFF unit in Vietnam. Army Captain Temperelli is considered the ``pioneer'' of DUST OFF; however, it was Army Major Charles L. Kelly, the unit's third commander, who would establish the traditions and the motto that DUST OFF crews hold sacred today.

Major Kelly, like his predecessors, believed in the mission of rescuing fallen comrades so much so that he gave his life to the mission. On July 1, 1964, Major Kelly and his crew received a call to evacuate a wounded soldier. When they arrived, Major Kelly was instructed by an American advisor on the ground to leave the area; the landing zone was too ``hot.'' Major Kelly responded with the phrase that would become the DUST OFF motto: ``When I have your wounded.'' As Major Kelly hovered over the battlefield, an enemy bullet struck him in the heart; he was killed. It was with news of Major Kelly's death and the story of DUST OFF's dedication to the wounded that DUST OFF earned its permanency in the Army.

I received a book written by a Pennsylvania native, Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Mike Novosel, titled DUSTOFF: The Memoir of an Army Aviator. Mr. Novosel--a Medal of Honor recipient who served two tours in Vietnam and was a veteran of two other wars--knows first hand the sacrifice, courage and dedication to duty that DUST OFF crews displayed in Vietnam and continue to display today. In his two tours as a DUST OFF pilot in Vietnam, Mr. Novosel flew 2,543 missions and extracted 5,589 wounded. In his book, Mr. Novosel shares many amazing stories of landing in ``hot'' landing zones to allow his medic and crew chief, who were also exposed to enemy fire, to rescue and care for the wounded. But as Mr. Novosel has said, his experience as a DUST OFF pilot was not uncommon. Thousands of brave soldiers risked their lives every day by flying into combat zones to evacuate the wounded.

I am honored that Mr. Novosel and others have brought the story of DUST OFF to my attention. It is my sincere hope that the Army will recognize DUST OFF pilots and crew with an appropriate badge which acknowledges the combat service of these brave individuals. When the War Department created the Combat Medical Badge (CMB) in WWII, as a companion to the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) it did so to recognize that ``medical aidmen . . . shared the same hazards and hardships of ground combat on a daily basis with the infantry soldier.'' DUST OFF pilots and crew equally shared the hazards and hardships of ground combat with the infantry soldier. The fact that they were not directly assigned or attached to a particular infantry unit a fact that, under current Army policy, makes them eligible to receive a CIB or CMB should not bar special recognition of their service, service that one author has characterized as ``the brightest achievement of the U.S. Army in Vietnam.''

On July 29, 2003, I chaired a hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs to hear testimony from DUST OFF participants about their experiences under fire. I gave the Army an opportunity to explain its position and, perhaps, rethink its opposition to the awarding of an appropriate designation to DUST OFF crew members. Based on testimony offered by three Vietnam veterans--Chief Warrant Officer, Ret., Michael J. Novosel, M.O.H., Chief Warrant Officer, Ret., John M. Travers, and Mr. William Fredrick ``Fred'' Castleberry--I am now more convinced than ever of the worthiness of this legislation. Following the July 29, 2003, hearing, I introduced this legislation--S. 1487 in the 108th Congress. The bill was referred to the Committee on Armed Services, which has jurisdiction over this matter. Unfortunately, the bill never made its way out of committee which is why I am re-introducing this important legislation today.

Army officials recently decided to create a ``Close Combat Badge'' (CCB) for non-infantry soldiers that recognizes their direct participation in ground combat. However, this badge will not be awarded to DUST OFF Medical Helicopter Evacuation Crew Members who have yet to be properly recognized.

On the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are etched the names of over 400 medics, pilots, and crew that gave their lives so others might live. The forward thinking, enthusiasm, and dedication of DUST OFF crews in Vietnam are attributes seen in today's DUST OFF crews. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation which would recognize the nature of the service these individuals have performed, and continue to perform, while serving on DUST OFF crews.

By Mr. SPECTER:

S. 613. A bill to establish the Steel Industry National Historic Site in the State of Pennsylvania; to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to introduce legislation that will honor the importance of the steel industry in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Nation by creating the ``Steel Industry National Historic Site'' to be operated by the National Park Service in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The importance of steel to the industrial development of the United States cannot be overstated. A national historic site devoted to the history of the steel industry will afford all Americans the opportunity to celebrate this rich heritage, which is symbolic of the work ethic endemic to this great Nation. The National Park Service recently reported that Congress should make remnants of the U.S. Steel Homestead Works an affiliate of the national park system, rather than a full national park, an option which had been considered in prior years, and which I proposed in legislation during the 107th Congress. Due to the backlog of maintenance projects at national parks, the legislation offered today instead creates a national historic site that would be affiliated with the National Park Service. There is no better place for such a site than in southwestern Pennsylvania, which played a significant role in early industrial America and continues to today.

I have long supported efforts to preserve and enhance this historical steel-related heritage through the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area, which includes the City of Pittsburgh, and seven southwestern Pennsylvania counties: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland. I have sought and been very pleased with congressional support for the important work within the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area expressed through appropriations levels of roughly $1 million annually since fiscal year 1998. I am hopeful that this support will continue. However, more than just resources are necessary to ensure the historical recognition needed for this important heritage. That is why I am introducing this legislation today.

It is important to note why southwestern Pennsylvania should be the home to the national site that my legislation authorizes. The combination of a strong workforce, valuable natural resources, and Pennsylvania's strategic location in the heavily populated northeastern United States allowed the steel industry to thrive. Today, the remaining buildings and sites devoted to steel production are threatened with further deterioration. Many of these sites are nationally significant and perfectly suited for the study and interpretation of this crucial period in our Nation's development. Some of these sites include the Carrie Furnace complex, the Hot Metal Bridge, and the Unites States Steel Homestead Works, which would all become a part of the Steel Industry National Historic Site under my legislation.

Highlights of such a national historic site would commemorate a wide range of accomplishments and topics for historical preservation and interpretation from industrial process advancements to labor-management relations. It is important to note that the site I seek to become a national site under this bill includes the location of the Battle of Homestead, waged in 1892 between steelworkers and Pinkerton guards. The Battle of Homestead marked a crucial period in our Nation's workers' rights movement. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, individuals, and public and private entities have attempted to protect and preserve resources such as the Homestead battleground and the Hot Metal Bridge. For the benefit and inspiration of present and future generations, it is time for the federal government to join this effort to recognize their importance with the additional protection I provide in this bill.

I would like to commend my colleague, Representative MIKE DOYLE, who has been a longstanding leader in this preservation effort and who has consistently sponsored identical legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. I look forward to working with southwestern Pennsylvania officials and Mr. August Carlino, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Steel Industry Heritage Corporation, in order to bring this national historic site to fruition. We came very close to passing this bill in the 108th Congress with its passage in various forms in the House and Senate. However, Congress adjourned prior to final passage of the same bill in both chambers. Therefore, today I reintroduce this legislation and urge its swift passage.

By Mr. SPECTER:

S. 614. A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to permit medicare-eligible veterans to receive an out-patient medication benefit, to provide that certain veterans who receive such benefit are not otherwise eligible for medical care and services from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I have sought recognition to reintroduce the ``Veterans Prescription Drugs Assistance Act of 2005,'' a bill which seeks to assist Medicare-eligible veterans struggling with the costs of prescription medications.

In the 108th Congress, I worked with my colleagues to provide a prescription drug benefit for all Medicare-eligible seniors. Today, I offer legislation to allow Medicare-eligible veterans to obtain prescription drugs from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at the significantly discounted costs that VA, as a high-volume purchaser of prescriptions medications, is able to secure in the marketplace.

On May 23, 2003, I introduced similar legislation--S. 1153 in the 108th Congress. In my capacity as Chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee in the 108th Congress, I held a hearing on June 22, 2004, and heard testimony from Senate colleagues, Veterans Administration officials, and various veterans service organizations on this important legislation. On July 20, 2004, the Committee on Veterans Affairs reported out S. 1153 by a vote of 10 yeas and 5 nays. Unfortunately, the full Senate did not consider this measure.

In 2003, former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi was forced to limit access to VA care--which continues to this day--by suspending new enrollments of non-service-disabled middle and higher income veterans who were not enrolled for care as of January 17, 2003. The Secretary was forced to so act because the number of patients provided care by VA had more than doubled in just five years and, as a result, VA's medical care system had been overwhelmed. As a consequence, VA was unable to provide timely access to healthcare for all veterans who had sought it and appointment waiting times had grown to alarming levels. But in almost every news story that followed the Secretary's difficult decision, it was noted that many of the new enrollees who had overwhelmed VA's capacity to provide care were Medicare-eligible veterans who were able to get Medicare-financed care elsewhere but who were seeking access to the relatively generous prescription drug program provided to veterans under VA care.

Currently, VA provides enrolled patients with prescription medications for $7 for each 30-day supply. But to get such prescriptions, the veteran must obtain the full range of medical care from VA. This fact, coupled with former VA Secretary Principi's decision to close enrollment, means that veterans who are now, or who will be, eligible for Medicare who had not enrolled for VA care prior to January 17, 2003, will be unable to access VA's generous prescription drug benefits. This legislation would provide some relief for those veterans. In addition, I anticipate that it may induce some VA-enrolled Medicare-eligible veterans--those who were happy with their Medicare-financed care but who enrolled for VA care to gain access to VA-supplied drugs--to return to non-VA care with knowledge that they will be able to get their non-VA prescriptions filled through VA. Enactment of this provision, then, would reduce--not exacerbate--VA patient backlog numbers.

The premise of this legislation is straightforward. VA fills and distributes more than 100 million prescriptions each year for its 4.7 million veteran-patients. As a result, it has significant purchasing power--power which, coupled with VA's formulary program, allows it to negotiate very favorable prices for prescription drugs. According to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the average ``cash cost'' of a prescription in 2003 was $59.28. The average VA per-prescription cost in 2003 was just under $25--more than 50 percent less. This bill would allow veterans to access these significant discounts simply by providing a written prescription from any duly licensed physician, presumably one he or she has seen under the Medicare program.

By reintroducing this legislation today, I seek to afford Medicare-eligible veterans access to such discounts. I do not propose that VA be directed to supply drugs to all Medicare-eligible veterans at VA expense, or even with a partial VA subsidy. VA has stated that such a mandate would divert VA funding which, clearly, is already stretched to the limit--away from VA priority patients: the service-connected, the poor, and those with special needs. I accept VA's statement of concern. I accept and I insist that scarce funding be directed, first, to meet the needs of priority patients. This legislation, therefore, requires that VA recover the costs of drugs it supplies under this program from veterans who bring their prescriptions from outside doctors to VA.

I do not propose to tell VA in this bill how to recover these costs. VA is better positioned than I to make such judgments. Thus, my legislation provides flexibility to VA to design and test payment mechanisms to best accomplish cost recovery while still easing veterans' access to the drugs they need. It might be that enrollment fees, a co-payment structure, or a simple ``cost-plus'' for administrative expenses pricing format, or some combination of those mechanisms works best. It might be that different approaches work best in different regions of the country. I intend for the VA to experiment with different pricing structures to determine what works best. However, I also intend that veterans get a break on prescription drug pricing.

Those who would first benefit from this program are World War II and Korean War veterans who answered their country's call over 50 years ago. As they age, many desperately need relief from high drug prices. My purpose is not to minimize the work of the drug companies. Their discoveries have truly been marvels, but that is precious little comfort to a Medicare participant who, whatever the drug's overall utility might be, cannot afford both the drug and food or shelter or heat.

The premise of this legislation is simple: veteran access to VA market-driven discounts. Yet, the assistance it could provide might be profound. I urge my colleagues to support this bill so that the problem might be solved, or at least reduced, for seniors who served. They deserve it, and we should do it.

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