In This Issue:
1. VA Funding Given a Boost
2. Wounded Warrior Hearing
3. House Committee Moves Vet Bills
4. New USAF Leaders Nominated
1. VA Funding Given a Boost: The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction/VA marked up a bill that would provide the VA $4.6 billion more than last year. Included in the FY 2009 funding package are resources to hire 1,400 new claims processors, and increases to address the maintenance at VA medical facilities - an issue the VFW testified on during the budget process. The bill also provides additional caseworkers and medical services for homeless veterans, and $3.8 billion for mental health and substance abuse programs. The committee also included a provision to increase oversight on programs that provide mental illness, PTSD, suicide and military sexual trauma services to veterans. For a complete breakdown of the bill, visit the committee website at: http://appropriations.house.gov/pdf/EdwardsSubMarkup06-12-08.pdf
2. Wounded Warrior Hearing: The House VA Committee held a hearing this week on how VA and DOD are implementing the Wounded Warrior provisions that were passed in the FY 2008 defense budget (PL 110-181). Witnesses discussed the quality of VA and DOD mental health and traumatic brain injury care provided across the country, as well as in the public and private sectors. RAND Corporation analysts testified that VA is ahead of many of the private sector health care companies in providing services for TBI and mental health care. VA and DOD representatives discussed how they are implementing recommended changes as a part of a joint senior oversight committee. A Disability Evaluation System pilot test placed at three major military medical facilities is one of the largest initiatives undertaken since the law was passed.
3. House Committee Moves Vet Bills: The House VA Committee also held a Wednesday mark-up and a Thursday hearing on several veterans bills designed to enhance benefits and services to veterans.
• HR 2818 - legislation that would establish Epilepsy Centers at each of the five poly-trauma rehabilitation centers within VA. It would also require each center to employ an expert clinical and research staff to focus on research, treatment and long-term effects of epilepsy. This bill passed the Committee and now moves to the House floor for debate.
• HR 2192 - requires VA to hire a non-governmental employee (ombudsman) to provide patient advocacy and problem solving within VBA and VHA. Six regional ombudsmen will be hired representing six geographic areas across the country. This bill passed the Committee and now moves to the House floor for debate.
• HR 1197 - "The Prisoner of War Benefits Act" would amend current law by repealing the current 30-day minimum requirement for internment prior to the presumption of service connection for payment of veterans' disability compensation. It would also add diabetes (type 2) and osteoporosis to the list of presumptive diseases.
• HR 3008 - "The Rural Veterans Services Outreach and Training Act" would direct VA to provide financial assistance to state departments of veterans' affairs for the training of rural county veteran service officers in order to improve outreach and assistance to veterans and their families.
• HR 5155 - "Combat Veterans Debt Elimination Act," would prohibit VA from collecting debts owed by certain veterans who die as a result of a service-connected disability incurred or aggravated on active duty in a war after the Persian Gulf War or a combat zone after September 11, 2001
• HR 5709 - "Veterans Disability Fairness Act," requires VA to carry out quality assurance activities regarding disability compensation ratings.
For the entire list of bills visit the House VA website at: http://veterans.house.gov/
, or type the bill number in the search box at http://thomas.loc.gov/
4. New USAF Leaders Nominated: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recommended and the President has nominated Michael Donley to serve as Secretary of the Air Force, and Gen. Norton Schwartz to serve as Air Force Chief of Staff. Donley is presently the Director of Administration and Management for the Department of Defense, essentially charged with running the Pentagon and its many complex operations. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management in the first Bush Administration and, for a period, as Acting Secretary of the Air Force. The President has appointed Donley as Acting Secretary of the Air Force pending his confirmation. Schwartz is presently the commander of U.S. Transportation Command, which is in charge of the department's worldwide transportation network. Prior to that assignment, Schwartz served in senior joint military positions as Director of the Joint Staff, Director for Operations for the Joint Staff, and Deputy Commander of Special Operations Command.