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Veteran's Health Care Policy Enhancement Act Of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. FILNER. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

We have a number of bills on the floor today, all of which will go to improving both the health and the benefits of our veterans, to whom we owe so much. The bill on the floor now comes to us from Mr. Cazayoux of Louisiana, one of our newest Members, but who has already taken an active role on the Veterans' Committee. In addition, the bill includes elements of bills from Mr. Doyle of Pennsylvania, Mr. Walz from Minnesota, Mr. Buyer from Indiana, and Mr. Hare from Illinois, and addresses a number of policies in the VA which directly affect our Nation's veterans.

Within the care the VA gives, there is a small population of veterans who suffer from nonservice-connected but catastrophically disabling injuries. These veterans are stuck in an extreme paradox. They have injuries so severe that it prevents them from maintaining employment and causes them to utilize many more health services than other veterans. Yet, because of the nonservice-connected nature of their injuries, they are forced to bare the burden of copayments, which many of them are ill-equipped to pay. This bill will eliminate the injustice by prohibiting the VA from collecting copayments from this particularly vulnerable population of veterans.

The bill also addresses VA's ability to provide counseling, training, or mental health services to family members of veterans who are seeking treatment for nonservice-connected disabilities. Currently, VA is unable to provide these essential family support services unless the veteran is an inpatient and these services are needed for his or her discharge.

The policy is out of date and is a remnant from the days when the VA was primarily an inpatient system. This bill removes those restrictive requirements and will allow the VA to provide those services to families in need. This is particularly important for our newest generation of veterans, many of whom are struggling with PTSD and depression.

Section 4 of this bill addresses an issue that many veterans face on a daily basis. It is a battle against chronic and acute pain. The pain lingers long after the physical wounds of war have healed and affects the quality of life of many veterans. Although the VA has worked on a national pain management strategy, its implementation remains uneven across our system. This bill will require the VA to develop and implement a systemwide policy on pain management. We thank Mr. Walz from Minnesota for bringing this to us.

The VA is also currently authorized to collect third-party payments from veterans' insurance companies, but due to ineffective procedures, over a billion dollars go uncollected annually. This is money the VA can reuse for providing medical services to veterans. To address this issue, the VA began a demonstration project of a Consolidated Patient Accounting Center in 2005, and has some success in improving revenue collections. In Section 5 of this bill, we require the VA to establish no more than seven other CPACs, (Consolidated Pain Accounting Centers) to enable it to improve its billing performance.

This service, Mr. Speaker, has been outsourced for the last 5 or 6 years on a sole-source contract. I would urge the VA right now, on the floor, I am urging them in letters and, if necessary, legislation, to open that bidding process to a wider variety of contractors, many of whom have systems to save almost a billion and a half dollars per year, that is not collected for the VA. That money would go directly back to the services of our veterans.

The VA is also the largest provider of HIV/AIDS care in the United States, but its policies regarding HIV testing are based on best practices that date back to the 1980s. The CDC revised their HIV testing guidance in 2006. It now recommends that HIV testing be a part of routine clinical care and that separate written consent for HIV screening should no longer be required.

Section 6 of the bill brings the VA care in this area up to current standards of practice and provides VA the flexibility to update their screening standards in the future without congressional intervention.

Every provision of this bill, we believe, will improve the quality of health care of our veterans. It comes to us on a unanimous basis from the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. I urge my colleagues to support it.

I would reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, the next bill on our agenda was supposed to be a bill by Mr. Moran, who is managing the bills today. Due to some bureaucratic delays, we have not been able to put that bill on the floor, but I assure the gentleman from Kansas that we will. He has been a leader in rural health care to veterans. It is a problem that faces many of us all over the country, and we will address these issues that you have raised.

I will yield to the gentleman from Kansas.


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