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Issue Position: Veterans

Issue Position

Location: Unknown

As the daughter of a World War II veteran, Claire believes America has a moral responsibility to keep its promises to those who have sacrificed to protect our country. While much remains to be done to ensure that all those who have served receive the benefits and care they have earned, since arriving in Washington, D.C. Claire has championed a number of measures to improve quality of life for America's military heroes.

With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ongoing, Claire is firmly committed to working with our nation's military to improve the quality and breadth of mental health services and substance abuse programs available to our active duty force to confront menacing issues of combat and operational stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other factors arising from such conflicts. History has shown us that our country's failure to adequately address these leads to increases in long term issues including post-traumatic stress disorder, homelessness and other ills.

In one of her first tours of the state as a senator, Claire traveled throughout Missouri to meet with hundreds of veterans in 17 communities and hear their stories first-hand. She asked questions about which veterans programs work, which ones don't and what Congress can do about it. The stories she heard helped to shape her priorities for the Senate to include:

* Fully funding the VA
* Improving access to treatment for mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury
* Improving access to treatment of substance abuse disorders
* Reducing wait times to receive decisions on veterans benefits
* An automatic cost-of-living adjustment for veterans
* Expanding education benefits and ensuring they reflect today's education costs
* Increasing access to all services for rural veterans

America has an obligation to provide health care for those who bravely risked their lives for our country, but federal funding to support veterans benefits and health care has fallen far short of what is needed, especially with the increasing numbers of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Since arriving in Washington, D.C., Claire has fought to increase funding for veterans benefits and sponsored a number of measures to improve the quality and availability of health care for America's returning heroes.

Although our VA hospitals strive honorably to deliver the best services and support to Veterans, the fact is that many Veterans still feel deeply dissatisfied with their experiences at some Missouri VA hospitals. That is why Claire has proposed a new kind of partnership -- the Veterans Customer Satisfaction Program (VCSP) -- to bring Missouri veterans, veterans service organizations, patient advocates and the VA together to improve the customer service experience at Missouri VA medical centers.

VCSP has the goals of:

* Improving communication between the Veteran and the VA medical center.
* Improving the overall satisfaction ratings of all VA medical centers in Missouri.
* Improving the likelihood of Veterans to positively recommend the VA to other Veterans.

In order to achieve these goals, we've created a website that allows Veterans to complete a confidential survey about their experiences at Missouri VA medical centers. The VCSP survey brings together trackable data about problems and bright spots alike in your VA medical center experiences. Veterans can click here to participate in the survey. In addition, we have compiled this page of important health care resources for Missouri veterans. The more responses we get to the VHEP survey, the better we can help Veterans like you to have a dignified and reliably positive experience at Missouri VA hospitals, whether it is going to the dental clinic or undergoing major surgery.

Together, we can make a difference on this vitally important issue.

Mental Health Parity:
With more and more veterans returning from tours of duty overseas, Claire is committed to ensuring that each one of our men and women in uniform has access to the mental health care they deserve. Too many of our veterans fall through the cracks as it relates to depression, suicide, PTSD and combat-related stress due to a lack of access to care when they return from overseas duty. In the National Defense Authorization Act (S.1390) for fiscal year 2010, Claire co-sponsored a provision to ensure that military members returning from duty in combat zones receive mental health care screenings with a qualified provider at set intervals for a period of two years following their return home. Similarly, she co-sponsored a measure on behalf of Guard and Reserve forces to ensure that they receive access to quality mental health care following their return to the US from duty overseas.

Family Support:
When our military service members return from combat injured, it's not just the veteran who bears the responsibility; friends and family members are often called upon to provide care and assistance to their loved ones. Claire continues to fight for support services for families of wounded warriors. She is a co-sponsor of the Family Caregiver Program Act (S.801), which will provide assistance to family members of veterans in need of personal care services due to a serious injury incurred or aggravated during active duty. This measure, which will be particularly beneficial to families of disabled veterans in rural areas, aims to train and certify family members as qualified caregivers and provide the counseling and resource services necessary to ensure they are best equipped to handle the demands of this selfless service to their disabled, veteran family member.

She is also fighting to include veterans who have been traumatically wounded as a result of deployment-related vaccines. Inspired by the case of a young service member from Springfield who was medically retired from active duty, she introduced Lance Corporal Josef Lopez Fairness for Servicemembers Harmed by Vaccines Act of 2009 (S.1467), which will ensure the VA's Traumatic Service Member Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) coverage and benefits extend to these forgotten service members who sometimes undergo long-term hospitalizations, paralysis, amputation as a result of severe reaction to vaccines.

Wounded Warriors:
Shortly after Claire arrived in the Senate, a Washington Post series outlined how the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. was plagued by deplorable conditions in outpatient living facilities and red-tape laden bureaucracy. Claire, along with then-Sen. Barack Obama, introduced the Dignified Treatment for Wounded Warriors Act of 2007, which provided immediate relief to service members making the active duty to VA transition at facilities like Walter Reed.

The law also required the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop a comprehensive policy on the care, management, and transition from the military to VA or civilian life of service members with combat-related injuries or illnesses. A series of innovative pilot programs are being developed to determine the best way to improve this transition for the future, including increased training of caseworkers and social workers to help identify and treat veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental illnesses.

Smoother Transition From the Military to the VA:
As part of the fight to ensure that veterans receive the care they need from the VA, Claire believes that a smooth transition from active duty is crucial in making certain that no one falls through the cracks. She supports a number of measures, such as electronic medical records, that help veterans stay connected between the military and the VA. Claire is a cosponsor of the Lane Evans Veterans Health and Benefits Act (S.1117), which would tackle obstacles that keep Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from getting the care they need, including frustrating lengthy paperwork delays to receive compensation and assistance for new veterans.

As part of her pledge to fight for a better homecoming for veterans, she coauthored the Homecoming Enhancement Research and Oversight (HERO) Act, which would require comprehensive research on the physical and mental health and other readjustment needs of military men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The research is based on the landmark readjustment conducted for Vietnam veterans that helped provide useful information that has shaped the way the VA treats veterans over the last several decades.

Claire believes that providing our men and women in uniform with the resources and tools they need to treat the rising incidence of substance abuse in our armed forces will help address the increased rates of divorce, suicide, crime and domestic violence and mental health issues like PTSD that are associated with drug and alcohol abuse. Problems with the existing military substance abuse program, such as understaffing and lack of anonymity, were brought to Claire's attention by a whistleblower at Fort Leonard Wood Army Base in Missouri. In response, Claire offered the Substance Use Disorders Act (S.459) to help identify the 'best practices' for dealing with these issues and require an independent study and report of substance use disorders in the Armed Forces to be undertaken by an independent health agency such as the Institute of Medicine. Claire is hopeful that changes in the program will help military service members feel comfortable asking for help and have access the resources they need for substance abuse problems.

Honoring Our Promise:
When Claire's father returned home from World War II, he was given an education and a promise of health care for his combat related injuries and illnesses. But the men and women returning home from battle in recent years have found themselves in a different situation, often struggling with access to healthcare and receiving limited educational opportunities. Claire is committed to changing that for today's men and women in uniform.

Education/G.I. Bill:
As part of a meaningful transition back to civilian life, Claire believes that America should make good on its promise to provide veterans with an education as a benefit honoring their service and sacrifice. She co-sponsored the Post 9/11 Veteran's Education Assistance Act of 2008 (S. 22), which has recently been implemented by the Veteran's Administration and provides the greatest boost to veterans' higher education benefits since World War II. The bill entitles veterans who served three years on active duty after September 11, 2001, to full tuition assistance and a living stipend for attending college. As the VA struggles to manage the increasing demand for tuition assistance, Claire is committed to making sure that the proper government watchdogs keep an eye on problems that arise and how benefits are doled out.

Claire is fighting hard to ensure that our men and women in uniform do not experience any discrimination when it comes to applying for outside federal financial aid. She has proposed legislation to ensure that any service-connected education benefits do not count against veterans on applications for federal financial aid. Claire also introduced a bill to make certain that National Guard and Reserve service members who have not experienced a deployment are not treated differently than other service members when they apply for federal financial aid.

Supporting Rural Veterans:
Claire believes that where they choose to live should not hinder any veteran's ability to receive the benefits they fought hard to earn. Claire is a strong supporter of legislation attentive to the special needs of veterans living in rural communities. She heard about many challenges faced by Missouri's rural veterans during her statewide listening tour, and as a result she signed on to cosponsor the Rural Veterans Healthcare Improvement Act (S.1146), which would require the conduct of demonstration projects within the VA Office of Rural Health that would expand care in rural areas through partnerships between the VA, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) at critical access hospitals and community health centers.

Claire was proud to help pass into law a measure that would establish a grant program to provide innovative transportation options to veterans in remote rural areas and has supports efforts raise reimbursement rates for veterans for their travel expenses. Thanks to her efforts, disabled veterans who drive long distances for health care appointments now receive almost four times the amount of money per mile than they had been receiving in reimbursement for their travel expenses.

Commemorating their service:
In addition to providing the health care and education benefits that our nation's veterans deserve, Claire supports efforts to publicly recognize the sacrifice of those who have served our country so bravely. She co-sponsored a bill this year in Congress to authorize the awarding of a Congressional Gold Medal for 300 surviving WASP members who were the first women in history to fly America's military aircraft. Claire is proud to have three of these remaining WASP veterans as fellow Missouri natives and to see dignity brought to all these patriots who, although they took the military "oath" and were promised military status, were never afforded active duty status, were never commissioned and never received honors or recognition for their service.

Claire has also introduced a bill to designate the Liberty Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, as the National World War I Memorial in recognition of the sacrifice made by so many Americans and their families. The legislation acknowledges the beautiful memorial the people of Kansas City erected and maintained to honor them and supported efforts to commemorate Purple Heart recipients with a "Forever" stamp printed in their honor.

Other Efforts:
In response to ongoing concerns about the disenfranchisement of our service members operating from deployed and overseas locations, Claire is fighting for a measure to help those overseas get better access to prioritized mailing via the United States Postal System and access to special electronic balloting via the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). If passed, this measure will ensure that those service members filing absentee ballots are not disenfranchised because of the difficulties faced in submitting timely ballots from overseas via the normal postal system.

Claire believes that the quality of care that our veterans receive should never be hindered by budget delays. Along with the majority of all major Veterans and Military Service Organizations, she has supported advanced funding of veterans' medical care to provide timely and predictable flow of funding from year to year, but more importantly, better care for our veterans. For fiscal year 2010, she supports a VA budget that will:

* Increase funding for the VA by $25 billion above baseline over the next five years;
* Expand eligibility for veterans' health care to over 500,000 veterans who were previously denied care by 2013;
* Enhance outreach and services related to mental health care and cognitive injuries, including PTSD and traumatic brain injury, with a focus on access for veterans in rural areas;
* Invest in better technology to deliver services and benefits to veterans with the quality and efficiency they deserve;
* Provide greater benefits to veterans who are medically retired from service;
* Combat homelessness by safeguarding vulnerable veterans; and
* Facilitate timely implementation of the comprehensive education benefits that veterans earn through their dedicated military service.

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