Friday, July 20, 2007

Nicholson Resignation is an Opportunity for Change

The recent resignation of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson provides an opportunity to appoint a new leader that will improve healthcare and other vital services for our nation's veterans.

The next secretary will have their hands full trying to fix a myriad of problems ranging from the backlog of claims to staffing shortages and budget shortfalls. In the meantime, Congress has already taken steps to address many of these problems by passing the single largest funding increase in the 77 year history of the VA totaling nearly $12 billion.

This unprecedented amount of money along with strong leadership will allow us to chart a new course that will allow the aging and new generation of Veterans to get the quality healthcare they need. I urge President Bush to appoint a new secretary that is committed to take immediate action and do whatever it takes to help the brave men and women in uniform get the benefits promised to them when they agreed to serve our country.

It is not only imperative – it is the right thing to do.


FY 2007 Funding (H.J.Res. 20; P.L. 110-5)

· The $3.4 billion increase over fiscal year 2006 in VA funding will provide services to meet rising health care costs and account for the influx of an estimated 219,000 new veterans entering the VA system in 2007.

Iraq Accountability Act – FY 2007 Supplemental (H.R. 2206; P.L. 110-28)

· Provides about $2 billion more than the President requested for military health care at Walter Reed and other hospitals, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Counseling and Traumatic Brain Injury care and research.

· Provides $1.8 billion more for veterans’ health care to address the needs of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (including mental health care and benefit claims) and the backlog in maintaining VA health facilities; the Administration requested no money for VA health care.

FY 2008 Budget Resolution/Veterans Funding (S.Con.Res. 21)

· The largest veterans’ budget increase in American history -- $6.7 billion more than last year.

· Invests $32 billion over five years above the President’s budget.

· Rejects Administration plan to impose new enrollment fees for veterans’ health care and nearly double drug co-payments for one million veterans.

· Commended by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, MOAA, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.


Military Construction/VA Spending Bill for FY 2008 (H.R. 2642)

· Increases the VA budget by $6.7 billion above the FY07 level, the largest single increase in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration and $3.8 billion above the President’s request for FY08.

· For the first time, the budget for VA medical accounts exceeds the Independent Budget prepared by veterans’ service organizations by $294 million -- for the largest increase in VA health care in American history

· Significantly reduces the 400,000 claims backlog by adding more than 1,100 new claims processors.

· Provide much-needed maintenance of VA health care facilities to prevent another Walter Reed-type scandal from occurring in the VA system (funding is $500 million above the President’s request).

· Provides $600 million more for mental health, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury than the President and creates five polytrauma centers and three Centers of Excellence for Mental Health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) fully operational. One-third of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face mental health challenges, and up to 300,000 returning troops are expected to suffer from TBI.

· All of the major veterans’ groups strongly endorsed the bill – including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Disabled Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, Association of the United States Army, National Association for Uniformed Services, and AMVETS – calling it a “major victory” and an “impressive commitment” to our veterans.

Wounded Warrior Assistance Act (H.R. 1538):

· Takes the first step to address the problems brought to light by the inadequate living conditions and the administrative challenges experienced by some patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

· Improves outpatient medical care for wounded service members at military health care facilities.

· Begins restoring integrity and efficiency to disability evaluations and cutting bureaucratic red-tape.

· Improves the transition of wounded service members from the Armed Forces to the VA system.

DOD Upgrade Military Health Care for our Troops & Military Retirees (H.R. 1585)

· Prohibits fee increases in TRICARE and TRICARE pharmacy program for service members and retirees.

· Restores 2,300 medical personnel and fully funds military health facility maintenance.

· Launches a Military Mental Health Initiative and Traumatic Brain Injury Initiative.

Improve VA Health Insurance for Returning Service Members (H.R. 612)

· Makes those who have served in combat in the Persian Gulf War or future hostilities eligible for health care for five years after discharge, instead of two years, to help veterans who might have post-traumatic stress disorder, which may not be immediately evident.

Traumatic Brain Injury/Rural Veterans Outreach (H.R. 2199)

· Ensures that our veterans are properly screened for Traumatic Brain Injury (the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) and, if diagnosed, receive the appropriate treatment.

· Provide rural communities with "mobile vet centers" for mental health services and benefits outreach.

Veterans Outreach Improvement Act (H.R. 67)

· Allows the VA to partner with state and local governments to reach out to veterans and their families to ensure they receive their veterans’ benefits.