STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - April 26, 2007)
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I rise today as the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs to join my distinguished colleague, Senator Akaka, who serves as the Chairman of the Committee, in introducing this important legislation to assist veterans who suffer from a traumatic brain injury.
Every so often an issue of incredible importance confronts this institution and government as whole. And when it does, it is critical that we here in Congress cut through the politics of this institution and the red tape of government and do what is right and necessary for Americans in need. The bill Senator Akaka and I are introducing today is one of those times and veterans with traumatic brain injury is one of those issues.
Sadly, hundreds and perhaps even thousands of our dedicated servicemen
and women are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with mild, moderate, and even severe head trauma. Improvised Explosive Devices detonating regularly throughout Iraq have exposed our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to countless instances in which a TBI can occur. The long-term consequences of these injuries are, in many ways, unknown to us. There's so much modern medicine doesn't know about how the brain functions, let alone how little we know about the consequences of small changes in its functioning.
Still, it is incumbent on us to do everything in our power to provide the best care and services to those servicemembers and veterans in need of TBI care and rehabilitation. To that end, Senator Akaka and I believe that quality TBI care must include certain elements, which this legislation would impose on VA.
Most important among these new requirements is the directive for VA to provide every veteran who has an inpatient stay for a TBI with an individual plan for rehabilitation and reintegration. This may sound to many of my colleagues like a very simple, and thus unimportant, requirement. But, I believe it is a critical component of recovery.
It is a requirement that patients, families, doctors, nurses, social workers, etc., sit down and develop a detailed plan to maximize the chances of recovery and independent living at some point in the future for an injured servicemember or veteran. In short, it is the start of the road to recovery.
In addition to the requirement for individual plans, VA must be given some flexibility to seek out private care services when the situation or the severity of the traumatic brain injury calls for it. This legislation would establish the parameters for receipt of that care and I believe send an important message to VA and our wounded veterans that we want the best care possible regardless of whether it is obtained through a door with the letters V-A over them or through a door with a different name.
Also, this bill would establish a research, clinical care, and education program for traumatic brain injury. The program would be modeled on VA's very successful Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Care program as well as the special programs for Parkinson's disease and geriatric medicine. The nation must invest in learning more about the debilitating conditions that accompany a traumatic brain injury so that one day we might look forward to better treatment and, most importantly, a better quality of life for these heroes.
Finally, the legislation would create a pilot program for assisted living for veterans with severe traumatic brain injury. I recognize that generally assisted living is not a program that VA has embraced in the past. But, the sheer number of those suffering with TBI and the severity of those conditions demand that we once again consider assisted living as a viable means of providing some quality of life to veterans and their families. And I am proud that assisted living will once again be a component of care provided by VA.
I urge all of my colleagues to cosponsor this legislation. The Chairman and I are very proud of the work we've done together in this legislation. I see a lot of progress in VA with respect to the care they are providing all of our wounded soldiers and veterans. But, more can be done.
I think this bill will move VA further in the direction they are heading and provide veterans with traumatic brain injuries an opportunity to achieve a full and productive life.
With that, again, I want to again thank Chairman Akaka for his work.
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