Veterans' Affairs Bill Incorporates Obama Proposals to Improve Veterans' Health Care and Benefits
Several initiatives to improve veterans' health care proposed by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) were today included in comprehensive legislation that passed the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Those measures would launch the VA Hospital Quality Report Card Initiative (S.692), extend mental health care coverage for veterans, require timely mental health evaluations upon the veteran's request, improve the VA's support and outreach to members of the National Guard and Reserve and their families, and strengthen oversight of the VA's provision of services and benefits to veterans.
"This legislation goes a long way toward providing our honorable veterans and their family members with the benefits and care they deserve," said Senator Obama. "I am proud that this package includes my proposals to strengthen hospital quality, expand mental health care coverage for veterans, broaden outreach activities for our Guard members and Reservists, and strengthen VA oversight. Providing the best care for our service members, veterans and their families is one thing about this war we can still get right."
Obama's proposals would make significant improvements in the VA's provision of mental health care services to returning veterans and extend outreach to ensure members of the National Guard and Reserves -- and their families -- have critical information and receive assistance in applying for VA benefits they deserve.
Specifically, the legislation would require the VA to extend the window during which veterans can apply for mental health care benefits from 2 to 5 years. The bill would also require that the VA provide any veteran with a mental health evaluation in 30 days or less from the time of the request. The measure also strengthens VA reporting on its provision of benefits and services to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan -- in past years a lack of information and poor planning by the VA's leadership led to significant funding shortfalls for the agency.
Obama Initiatives Include:
* Launches the VA Hospital Quality Report Card: Launches an initiative to report on health care quality at VA hospitals, and includes an innovative feature that will place the report cards online so that veterans can assess the quality of different facilities.
* Expands mental health coverage from 2 to 5 years for veterans upon separation from active duty: Expands the time period service members can have access to mental health resources.
* Requires 30-day turnaround for mental health evaluation requests: Requires that a VA center provide a mental health evaluation to any veteran within 30 days or less from his or her request.
* Strengthens Reporting Requirements: Strengthens reporting on the benefits and provision of services to veterans, including the numbers of benefit claims and compensation, pension benefits, vet center usage, and aggregated information on the mental health needs of veterans.
* Improves National Guard and Reservists Outreach: Requires the VA to include Guard members and Reservists in its outreach activities and to ensure outreach activities include both the provision of information as well as assistance to veterans and families in applying for benefits.
Senator Obama initially introduced these proposals as the VA Hospital Quality Report Card Act (S.692) and the Lane Evans Veterans' Health and Benefits Improvement Act (S. 117) earlier this year.
Obama serves as a member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.