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Dignified Treatment Of Wounded Warriors Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I wish to take a moment to comment on the passage of the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act. The President's blue ribbon Wounded Warrior Commission met with the President to provide
him with recommendations as to how the Veterans' Administration, along with the Department of Defense, can best provide service to our dramatically injured veterans in a seamless fashion.

Our action, with passage of this legislation, is a step in the same direction. It fulfills the pledge we made a few months ago when the Veterans' Affairs Committee, along with the Armed Services Committee, held joint hearings to receive testimony on needed changes to transition programs and health care benefits.

At that time, many of us stated our intention to make a good-faith effort to work on issues under our respective committees' jurisdictions and then to merge our work back together again at the earliest possible time.

This bill not only contains the legislation that went through the Armed Services Committee earlier in the form of S. 1606, but it also includes title II of the bill, legislation sponsored by Senator DANNY AKAKA and me to address issues surrounding the treatment provided to those veterans with traumatic brain injuries.

Of course, I am proud of the comprehensive nature of the legislation Senator Akaka and I have put forward in this legislation and pleased to see its passage.

Under the provisions in this bill, injured veterans will benefit from new investments in research into mild, moderate, and serious traumatic brain injury. They and their families will be assured that care is provided in age-appropriate settings. We will explore whether assisted living services are the most appropriate and least restrictive settings to provide care for those with traumatic brain injury.

Most important to me is that our servicemembers, veterans, and their families will have peace of mind knowing the Secretary can provide traumatic brain injury care in a private, non-VA facility anytime the Secretary determines that doing so would be optimal to the recovery and the rehabilitation of that patient. In other words, with passage of this legislation, we are assuring that whenever it is in the best interest of the patient's recovery, then VA can purchase private care to treat traumatic brain injury.

These are a few of the very important provisions in title II of the legislation. Of course, there are many other notable pieces of the bill in title I, which, as I previously stated, was produced by my colleagues in the Armed Services Committee. I compliment them again for their work on this important bill.

We said we would do this as expeditiously as possible. The earliest time possible was, of course, the National Defense Authorization Act, which was on the floor a few weeks ago. There, we added the substance of the bill as an amendment to that act.

Unfortunately, the NDAA was pulled from the floor--a little premature, in my judgment, but it was. But I do wish to compliment both leaders for agreeing in a bipartisan way to bring this important part of that bill before us quickly so our troops and our injured veterans and their families can receive the care and benefits they deserve as quickly as it can be delivered.

I said on the floor a few weeks ago, during consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act, the legislation was very important because it demonstrated that Congress can break down the walls of jurisdiction and territory and do the right thing at the right time for our troops.

I and other Senators have been very critical of the bureaucratic roadblocks DOD and VA can put up against one another, when we all want to make sure they are working together in a seamless fashion. We now see those walls breaking apart. So I believe we are going to demand that these two agencies break down further those barriers of territory and jurisdiction. When we demonstrate we can do it, we then must ask them to do it. In this legislation, you saw two committees come together to make it possible. I am proud we have done so. It is the kind of work we ought to do.

I also think it is fitting we passed this bill yesterday because the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors is set to issue its final report. That happened. We have now had an opportunity to review it.

I thank all of the Members of that Commission for their service and for all of the work they did in a short timeframe. Former Senator Bob Dole and Secretary Donna Shalala were great leaders on this issue for us and for our veterans and for our troops.

The passage of this bill is only the beginning of changes that we will make and must make for the health care and the benefit services offered to our veterans and offered through VA and DOD. I look forward to hearings on the panel's recommendations soon and to finalize the reading of the report. I now have it in hand. I am hopeful that with the passage of this legislation, which will soon be on its way to the President for signature, we in the Congress can focus on the recommendations of the Dole-Shalala panel.

With that, I again thank the chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, Senator Akaka, for his work and support in the production of title II of this bill. I also want to thank and compliment Senator McCain and Senator Levin and Senator Warner for their work on title I, the Wounded Warrior legislation. I truly appreciate the coming together of these diverse but connected jurisdictions to show we can break down our walls and to once again demonstrate and encourage both the Department of Defense and VA to work in a progressive, seamless fashion for the benefit of our fighting men and women and for the benefit of those same men and women when they become veterans and the responsibility for them shifts to a different jurisdiction. It is important legislation and work of which we can be proud.

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