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Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2007

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, last Saturday, all across the country, we honored our Nation's veterans, and we renewed our commitment to care for them, in the way Abraham Lincoln advised us in his Second Inaugural Address: ``to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.''

From the very beginning of America, brave men and women have sacrificed their lives or suffered wounds while serving our country. We owe each of them a debt of gratitude that we can never truly repay, and we must honor them and support them whenever we can.

In doing so, we must take great care to remember that not all wounds are visible and that, when we call upon our best and brightest, we often send their precious minds, as well as their bodies, into harm's way. The continuing current missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have been especially demanding of, and damaging to, our troops.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and conducted by a medical research team at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research surveyed soldiers and Marines returning from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations yielded disturbing results. According to the survey, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, substance abuse, or other mental health disorders may afflict nearly 1 in 5 service members returning from Iraq and more than 1 in ten returning from Afghanistan.

The Veterans Health Administration estimates that a large percentage of the veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan who have sought VA care have exhibited symptoms of one or more mental disorders and have sought treatment from veterans centers. Last month, the Washington Post reported that, as of the end of June, the VA treated a third of the more than 184,000 veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq for these symptoms. Nearly half of those treated were diagnosed as possible victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the Post, the VA's estimate represents a tenfold increase in the number of cases treated in only 18 months, and the number is likely to increase as our forces continue to serve multiple tours of duty in hostile areas. The number may be further increased by ongoing medical outreach programs conducted by the military to increase service members' awareness of the indications and implications of the types of psychological trauma associated with combat deployments.

As their awareness grows, many more veterans will likely seek mental health treatment, and veterans groups are deeply concerned that the VA is already straining to meet the increased demand. All too frequently we read reports of reduced services, staff shortages, and long waits for minimal or intermittent care.

In August, the Washington Post reported the example of a veteran of Iraq who receives only 30 minutes of treatment a month for post-traumatic stress disorder. In October, the Post reported that another veteran of Iraq was told he would have to wait 2 1/2 months for an appointment at a VA facility to treat his sleep disorder.

We need to be sure that our veterans receive the care they deserve, and that the VA has the capacity to provide adequately specialized services to every veteran who needs counseling or treatment. We can't allow the heavy demands of our commitments overseas to impair the quality of assistance that our veterans actually receive. The more we ask of our brave men and women, the more we must provide them in return.

The Kerry amendment will help the Veterans' Administration to better address the surge in mental health needs of our veterans and help to provide a higher standard of medical care to them in a more productive and efficient manner. I urge my colleagues to support the amendment.

Our veterans need and deserve this support. We owe them nothing less in light of the intense dangers and stresses they have faced and endured so courageously.


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