Issue Position: Veterans Issues

Issue Position

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Location: Unknown

"A grateful nation needs to always, always, always honor and celebrate our veterans. And we must fulfill our solemn obligation to as Lincoln said, "care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.'"

Improve Health Care For Those Injured In Service

Our wounded veterans deserve the best medical care our country can offer. Joe Biden believes our nation has the highest obligation to provide proper medical care for the hundreds of thousands of brave men and women who bear the physical and emotional scars of serving their country at war.

* Ensure Veterans and Soldiers Are Treated In the Best Facilities: Unfortunately, a series of articles in the Washington Post exposed delays in care that soldiers face and highlighted horrible living conditions that many endure while they are receiving treatment for their wounds. Joe Biden would ensure a Walter Reed situation won't happen again and that our hospitals and military medical facilities are ready for the new, special needs of our troops for decades to come by:

* Prohibiting private contracting of maintenance services at military medical complexes while the nation is at war to prevent the kind of backlog of maintenance orders and maintenance breakdown that occurred at Walter Reed.

* Stopping budget cuts to military medical facilities while the nation is at war.

* Requiring the Secretary of Defense to establish uniform standards for military medical treatment facilities, specialty medical care facilities, and military quarters housing patients, and requiring robust inspections.

* Requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to report on long-term care needs for the next 50 years. Hundreds of thousands of additional veterans with multiple care needs will be coming into the system and the VA must have a plan in place to ensure they receive adequate care.

* Secure Family Involvement and Stability For Injured Soldiers: Joe Biden knows that the emotional support that family members give their loved ones, along with the personal, medical and convalescent care they provide, is invaluable and goes a long way in a wounded soldier's recovery. To ensure that family members of our wounded warriors are not forced to choose between providing care for their loved ones or keeping their jobs, Joe Biden would:

* Guarantee 12-months of Family and Medical Leave coverage for families of injured soldiers.

* Extend medical care to family members while they are living at military treatment facilities.

* Extend employment services to care-giving family members.

* Strengthen existing anonymous crisis counseling and respite services.

* Adequately Screen For and Treat TBI and PTSD: Soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom are suffering traumatic brain injuries (TBI) at much higher rates than past wars and many also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To address the growing demand for TBI and PTSD services and other needs of our Armed Forces and veterans, Joe Biden would:

* Establish a protocol for pre-deployment assessment and documentation of cognitive function of members that can be used for comparison after deployment to assist in the diagnosis of TBI.

* Require the Secretary of Defense to establish two centers of excellence - one for TBI and one for PTSD - to develop the best treatment and screening practices.

* Authorize the use of non-VA facilities for the implementation of rehabilitation and community reintegration plans for veterans with TBI, allowing veterans to get the care they need, wherever they live.

* Establish a pilot program for assisted living services for veterans with TBI.

* Improve Care: We owe our troops and veterans the highest quality care. To ensure that they receive it Joe Biden would:

* Direct the DOD/VA Interagency Program Office to develop and implement a joint electronic health record keeping system.

* Increase the number of caseworkers and prevent the ratio of case managers to patients from exceeding 1 to 20.

* Require that case managers be property trained in assisting their patients in navigating the VA system.

* Authorize medically retired service members to receive the active duty health care benefit for 3 years.

* Streamline and revise the Physical Disability Evaluation System by bringing it all under one command, creating injury specific PDES procedures, making it accessible entirely online.

* Require the creation of a single manual for outpatient care services, including PDES, family support, personnel processing and finance requirement, which is available online.

* Establish a board to review disability determinations of service members separated between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2009, with a disability rating of 20% or less.

Reform Handling of Disability Claims

The backlog of pending claims and the delays in the appeals process is simply unacceptable: at the end of the 2006 fiscal year, rating-related compensation claims were pending an average of 127 days and appeals resolutions took an average of 657 days to resolve. In order to reduce these backlogs and the hardship they impose on veterans and their families Joe Biden would:

* Update and simplify the disability determination and claims processing system. Building on the recommendations of the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, periodic reviews of veterans' disability status should be undertaken to ensure proper compensation.

* Establish a lawyer corps that represents veterans free-of-charge during the adjudications process. Based on a JAG model, these lawyers would receive loan forgiveness and be paid a monthly stipend while agreeing to guide veterans and their families through the adjudication process.

* Allow survivors to step in and pursue undecided claims or those under appeal that were pending at the time of a veteran's death. This would prevent claims from having to start over again and delaying benefits for the surviving family members.

* Require the VA to review educational and training requirements for claims adjudicators. With an increasing number of veterans citing more disabilities in their claims, the claims are becoming more complex and the claims processors may need more training to complete the claims process in a timely fashion.

* Require the VA to publish the number of claims that are rejected each year in each region. This could help bring transparency to the claims process and explain variations in disability ratings in different areas of the country.

Assist With Job Placement and Educational Services

Many veterans come home from Iraq and Afghanistan and find it difficult to find civilian work. Reservists who have been deployed often return home to find their employer has gone out of business. Sadly, the national unemployment rate for young veterans is three times the national average. We also need to help older veterans who are coping with a changing global economy and may need job training for new careers. To help with job placement and educational services for veterans Joe Biden would:

* Increase funding and resources for the Helmets to Hardhats program to allow more veterans to take advantage of this program that helps them find jobs in skilled trades ranging from construction to transportation.

* Provide grants to non-profit organizations and veterans service organizations that provide job training and job placement services.

* Allow Reservists and National Guard members who have been deployed while enrolled in college to return to school with the same academic standing that they had before they were called up. In addition, if after returning home they decide they do not want to continue their schooling and instead find employment, they would have at least 12 months to begin paying student loans to help overcome the strain of deployment to a combat zone.

Joe Biden's Record: Three Decades of Keeping the Promise

Guaranteeing Funding for Health Care

A top priority of veterans groups, and one Joe Biden has consistently supported, is to change the budget for the Veterans Administration, so funding for veterans is guaranteed. He would have a mandatory formula for allocating money to the VA, instead of having their budget be a discretionary item that can be cut. The Administration grossly underestimated the number of Iraq veterans requiring care, but Joe Biden helped to pass a double-digit funding increase, as recommended by several veterans' service organizations.

Helping Veterans With Agent Orange Related Illness

For three decades Joe Biden has worked to get veterans of Vietnam who were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins access to the care and benefits they deserve. He has pressured the VA to resolve claims, expanded compensation for veterans injured by exposure, extended eligibility for inpatient and outpatient care and worked to make sure that children suffering from Spina Bifida because of parent exposure to Agent Orange are eligible for disability benefits. He will continue to fight to make sure our Vietnam veterans receive adequate care and benefits and ensure that the best available medical and scientific evidence is used by the VA when determining disability claims.

Cutting the Backlog of Veterans Claims

Joe Biden has fought to reduce the unacceptably large backlog of veterans' claims that continue to cause undue hardships for veterans and their families by co-sponsoring legislation that would add resources and staff to more effectively process claims.

Advocating for Concurrent Receipt

Joe Biden believes there is no reason for one payment to reduce the other. He has repeatedly co-sponsored legislation to authorize full concurrent receipt, allowing disabled military retirees to receive full military retirement pay in addition to VA disability compensation.

Helping Military Retirees, Reservists With TRICARE

Joe Biden has supported numerous measures to allow federal civilian and military retirees to pay TRICARE health insurance on a pre-tax basis; and has supported extending TRICARE coverage to Reservists who have no other source of health insurance.

Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans

When our service men and women return from assignments they need jobs, Joe Biden has always championed efforts to increase job opportunities for members after they leave the service. He co-sponsored legislation to establish the Troops to Nurse Teachers program, encouraging veterans to become faculty members at nursing schools.

Celebrating Veterans

Too many American children lack family ties to the military. Joe Biden wants to better educate America's youth on the accomplishments of our veterans. So every year he has introduced a resolution designating National Veterans Awareness Week, the week of Veteran's Day.

Honoring Our World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War Veterans

Joe Biden co-sponsored the legislation to build the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam War Memorials, and throughout his career has supported numerous measures to honor the service and dedication of the country's soldiers and veterans. He also co-sponsored legislation several times to grant a federal charter to the Korean War Veterans Association.

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