NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2008 -- (Senate - July 13, 2007)
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Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I rise today in support of Senator Levin's amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2008. This legislation is long overdue, and I hope all my colleagues will support its swift implementation. I want to thank the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Levin, Senator McCain, and the chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senator Akaka, for their leadership on this issue, and I commend them for the good work they have done. I also want to thank my colleagues for working so closely with me to get this legislation passed.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of introducing the Wounded Warriors Assistance Act of 2007 with my good friend from Georgia, Senator Saxby Chambliss. Our intent was to correct the injustice done to our returning wounded veterans and to improve the access and quality of health care our military personnel receive. There have been too many cases where our veterans have slipped through cracks in the system, and this is why I support the Levin amendment to H.R. 1585. It is a comprehensive policy of care and management for servicemembers with combat-related injuries or illnesses, a concept which mirrors the intent of the legislation I introduced. I worked on this legislation for a long time, and I am proud to have worked with the Senate Armed Services Committee and Senator Chambliss to put forth meaningful language that has the potential to directly help those who defend our country.
This legislation will provide our veterans with assistance to make sure their medical needs are met and bureaucracy does not interfere with their progress. While this legislation addresses enhanced health care, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, disability evaluations, and improvement of facilities housing military patients, this amendment will ultimately restore confidence in the integrity and efficiency of the military medical system and ensure our wounded warriors feel secure in the fact they will always receive committed, quality care. This act will also increase training for health care professionals and medical case managers and make a physician or health care professional available to help veterans navigate the medical evaluation board process, translate findings and recommendations, and explaining medical terms and regulations. This process is a critical crossroad in a service man or woman's career and can be very emotional, confusing, and stressful. I do not believe our returning veterans should have to deal with any more adversity or undue stress while trying to recover from their injuries, and this legislation will make this process easier for them.
Another provision that I am particularly proud of is the section on disability severance pay. This addition expands the population that is eligible for the enhancement of disability severance pay to include injuries incurred during performance of duty in support of combat operations. Oftentimes our military personnel are wounded in training exercises before they are sent into theater, and in current law they are not eligible to receive disability severance pay. For example, if a soldier is wounded while training to fast rope out of a helicopter, he or she will now be fairly compensated for their sacrifice in support of combat operations.
In my home State where 369 Arkansas soldiers have been wounded, my office has provided immeasurable assistance to ensure those veterans get better care. I am honored to support this legislation as it also affects over 25,000 wounded warriors nationwide. I frequently make trips to Walter Reed Hospital, and I visit wounded Arkansans who are some of the most determined and inspiring individuals I have ever met. However, they will still require top notch medical care and a lot of prayer in order to recover, and I want to make sure they get it.
Again, I am proud to support Senator Levin's amendment to H.R. 1585, and I am happy to see it adopted into the fiscal year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. We owe nothing less than the best for our troops who make great sacrifices for defense of this country. I firmly believe this legislation is what we need to reform and modernize the way we care for our wounded soldiers.
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