Today, the House is debating HR 2642, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations for FY 2008. This bill will provide veterans with the health care and benefits we promised them, resulting in the hiring of more qualified doctors and nurses to improve medical services to our veterans and to reduce waiting times for doctor appointments, and provide more to help veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and mental health care issues.
Action on veterans' health care funding could not come at a more important time – a military report released yesterday, shows there are significant problems in the military health care system and a significant rise in veterans suffering from mental disorders. More than one-third of the 230,000 new veterans who have applied for medical assistance from the Veterans' Affairs Department suffer with mental disorders. This bill provides $600 million more than the President's request for mental health, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury and makes five polytrauma centers and three Centers of Excellence for Mental Health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) fully operational this year to care for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, including those with TBI.
Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, Chairman Chet Edwards, and Rep. Nancy Boyda on the legislation:
Historic Increases in VA Spending for FY 2008
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 the first time, the budget for VA medical care exceeds the budget of the veterans' service organizations by $294 million. This will ensure quality health care for 5.8 million patients, including about 263,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, which the VA will treat in FY 2008.
Significantly reduces the 400,000 claims backlog for veterans waiting for disability and other benefits by adding more than 1,100 new claims processors.
Provides much needed maintenance of VA health care facilities (funding is $500 million above the President's request) to prevent a Walter Reed-type scandal from occurring. A recent VA report outlined 1,000 specific problems at VA health facilities around the country, with a backlog of $5 billion in maintenance.
Provides $600 million more than the President's request for mental health, PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury and makes five polytrauma centers and three Centers of Excellence for Mental Health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) fully operational this year to care for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, including those with TBI. An estimated one-third of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing mental health challenges, and up to 300,000 troops are expected to return from Iraq suffering from TBI. [GAO, 11/06; PBS, 2/18/07]
To ensure a seamless transition from the Defense Department to the VA, particularly for veterans suffering from TBI or PTSD, the bill permits the Department of Veterans Affairs to transfer up to $15 million for a joint program to improve access to care.
Develops and operates a toll-free telephone and web-based hotline for veterans to report on deficiencies in VA medical facilities and care.
Strengthens Our Military
Provides better barracks, housing and training facilities when troops return from combat through an unprecedented $21.4 billion investment in military construction, family housing, and BRAC ($207 million more than the President's request).
Provides funds to grow our military forces and begins the process of adding 65,000 Army, 27,000 Marine, and 9,000 National Guard and Reserve troops.
Fully funds the 2005 base realignment and closure process (BRAC) at $8.2 billion. Supports the relocation of 70,000 troops from bases in Korea and Europe.
Enhances Accountability to Stop Wasteful Spending
Increases funding for the Inspector General for VA to improve services for veterans and their families and to prevent and deter potential waste, fraud and inefficiencies.