INTRODUCTION OF H.R. 4020, STATE VETERANS HOME NURSE RECRUITMENT ACT OF 2004 -- (Extensions of Remarks - March 24, 2004)
HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH
OF NEW JERSEY
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 24, 2004
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing H.R. 4020, the State Veterans Home Nurse Recruitment Act of 2004, a bill to assist state veterans' homes in hiring and retaining nurses. Mr. Evans, the gentleman from Illinois and Ranking Member of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, joins me as an original cosponsor of this important legislation.
H.R. 4020 would allow states which already receive per diem payments and have an established employee incentive programs to apply to receive up to 50 percent of the annual cost of such incentive programs, but no more than 2 percent of the annual amount of per diem payments per fiscal year. These funds would be paid from VA's health care budget, just as the per diem payments are now being paid.
State veterans' homes first began serving veterans in the wake of the Civil War. In 1888, Congress authorized the first Federal aid to states which maintained homes for disabled American soldiers and sailors in need of long term care. At the time, the payments amounted to about 30 cents per resident per day. In the years since, Congress has made several major revisions to the program to expand the base of payments to include specialized hospital, nursing home, domiciliary, and adult day health care.
Now the largest provider of long-term care to our nation's veterans, the state veterans' home system plays a vital role in caring for the growing number of aging veterans. The veteran population most in need of nursing home care, those veterans 85 years or older, grew from about 387,000 in FY 1998 to 870,000 in FY 2003, more than a 100 percent increase over the past five years. This veteran population is expected to continue to rise to about 1.3 million by mid-decade.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2002 surveyed the 50 states and Puerto Rico to learn how states are responding to needs for health care workers. Ninety percent reported a shortage of nursing staff as a major concern in their responses. In efforts to respond to these nursing and other health work force shortages, 44 of 50 states reported establishing task forces and commissions to study and seek solutions. The focus of the task forces or commissions in 25 states was to study shortages in the long-term care work force.
While the HHS study documented the extent of the problems nationally, I am aware of difficulties that the three New Jersey state veterans' homes in Vineland, Paramus and Menlo Park, have faced over the past several years in recruiting and retaining quality nursing staff. The nursing shortage in my state of New Jersey was reported by HHS to be among the three highest in the nation.
Mr. Speaker, we have an obligation to ensure that our veterans receive the benefits that they have earned through their service, including long-term care of high quality. I urge my colleagues to cosponsor H.R. 4020.