Caregivers And Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act
Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (S. 1963) to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide assistance to caregivers of veterans, to improve the provision of health care to veterans, and for other purposes, as amended.
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Mr. FILNER. I yield myself 4 minutes.
Mr. Speaker, when I became chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs 3 years ago, the VA was strained to the breaking point by years of chronic underfunding. We were a country at war; yet, the Department of Veterans Affairs remained unprepared to care for the hundreds of thousands of new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is simply our duty as a Nation, no matter where we stand on the war, to put our men and women in harm's way under the care of our Nation when they return. Under the Democratic leadership, Congress has provided almost a 60 percent increase for VA medical care funding over the last 3 years, adding over $20 billion to the VA budget baseline.
S. 1963 demonstrates America's commitment to the dedicated servicemembers who have served in uniform and puts front and center the health care needs of veterans and their families. It is our pledge to them that we have not forgotten the sacrifices they have made in defense of this country. So in this bill, we help caregivers of injured veterans, women veterans, rural veterans, homeless veterans, and veterans with mental health issues.
S. 1963 provides immediate support to the mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives caring for warriors from the current conflicts as well as from previous conflicts. Today we have the opportunity to recognize their tremendous sacrifice and share their heavy burden.
The bill also expands and improves VA services for the 1.8 million women veterans currently receiving VA health care and goes a step further by anticipating the expected increase of women warriors over the next 5 years. This bill seeks to build a VA health care system respectful of the unique medical needs of women veterans.
S. 1963 also advances America's commitment to end veterans' homelessness. Hundreds of thousands of veterans are at risk of homelessness because of poverty and the lack of support from family and friends. An increasing number of veterans of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq are falling into this category, and we must be vigilant in providing support to this population.
We expand the number of places where homeless vets may receive supportive services; and for our veterans struggling without a roof over their heads, this small change in the law will make a big difference in their lives.
The bill also includes key provisions to improve health care provided to our rural veterans by authorizing stronger partnerships with community providers and the Department of Health and Human Services. These collaborations will allow VA to offer health care options to servicemembers living far from the nearest medical facility.
In addition, we address the troubling reality of posttraumatic stress disorder and troubling incidents of suicide amongst the veterans' population. The bill requires a much-needed and long-awaited study on veteran suicide and requires the VA to provide counseling referrals for former members of the Armed Forces who are not otherwise eligible for readjustment counseling.
S. 1963 provides higher priority status for Medal of Honor recipients, establishes a director of physician assistant services, and creates a committee on care of veterans with traumatic brain injury. It requires the VA to provide health care for herbicide-exposed Vietnam veterans and veterans of the Persian Gulf War who have insufficient medical evidence to establish a service-connected disability, and it prohibits the VA from collecting copayments from veterans who are catastrophically disabled.
This bill, Mr. Speaker, demands our immediate attention. We owe our veterans a great debt of gratitude, and this bill represents an understanding that the sacrifices of our veterans are shared amongst all Americans.
I urge all of my colleagues to support passage of S. 1963, as amended, and reserve the balance of my time.
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Mr. FILNER. I yield myself the balance of my time, and I want to return the debate to the bill under consideration.
Mr. Speaker, this is a landmark bill. Finally, it gives some help to the caregivers of wounded warriors--family members who have to, perhaps, give up their jobs and spend almost full time with their loved ones. There is the issue of women veterans, which is a rising percentage in what was always a male institution, and we have to change the culture there in the VA. We help our homeless veterans. We help those who are in rural areas, and we provide more money for mental health care for all of our Nation's veterans. This is an important bill, and I urge unanimous approval.
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