President Signs Hare's Legislation to Improve Support Services for Families of Veterans
President George W. Bush today signed S. 2162, a package of bills which includes Congressman Phil Hare's (D-IL) legislation to expand access to support services for families of veterans with mental health conditions.
"I have fought hard this Congress to improve mental health care for veterans and their families," said Hare, a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. "I am proud that we were able to get this important legislation signed into law."
Previous law allowed the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) to provide professional counseling, consultation, training and mental health services to the immediate family members of veterans being treated for service-connected conditions when such services are deemed necessary for the veteran's treatment. However, with respect to other veterans, the statute stated that the VA may only provide such services when they are initiated during a period of hospitalization. Hare's legislationthe Mental Health for Heroes' Families Acteliminated that hospitalization requirement. "My bill ends the nitpicking about how a veteran was injured or where they were treated and offers these services to each and every family that needs them," Hare said.
The President also signed two important initiatives Hare has been advocating for. The first is the Rural Veterans Access to Care Act, legislation included in S. 2162 that establishes a pilot program to allow veterans in rural areas to receive care from a local hospital instead of a VA facility. "Some veterans in my district have had to travel hundreds of miles for something as basic as a chest X-ray," Hare said. "This bill will allow our veterans to seek care from the hospital closest to them, reducing wait times and improving efficiency."
The second is legislation to reduce the backlog of VA disability claims. The Veterans Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act, included as part of S. 3023, instantly pays partial claims for severely wounded veterans, completely overhauls the prehistoric ratings schedule which has contributed to the size and scope of the backlog, and repairs the flawed and broken system of processing claims. "Reducing the unconscionable backlog of VA disability claims has been a priority of mine during this Congress," Hare said. "No veteran should have to wait in line for their care."