Improving Veterans' Health Care
Last week, President George W. Bush signed a package of bills which included my legislation to expand access to support services for families of veterans with mental health conditions.
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. My legislationthe Mental Health for Heroes' Families Acteliminated that hospitalization requirement.
I am proud that this important legislation was signed into law. Now we can end the nitpicking about how a veteran was injured or where they were treated and offer these services to each and every family that needs them.
The President also signed two important initiatives I have been advocating for. The first is the Rural Veterans Access to Care Act, legislation 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 our area have had to travel hundreds of miles for something as basic as a chest X-ray. This bill will allow them 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 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. No veteran should have to wait in line for their care.
Finally, I am proud to announce that the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans' Association gave me an A+ on their legislative report card. The veterans of these conflicts face a unique set of challenges especially in the area of mental health care. I will continue to fight on their behalf.
Member of Congress