The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman laid down a big marker Monday, introducing a bill that would provide five years of post-service health care coverage for combat veterans instead of the current two.
by Rick Maze – Army Times Staff writer
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., who became chairman in early January when Democrats took control of Congress, is not the first lawmaker to propose five years of post-service health care coverage without the need for a formal service-connected disability rating. But the fact that he is the
veterans’ committee chairman and is sponsoring a bill that would apply for current combat operations and any future hostilities makes this is an issue the Bush administration will have to face.
Filner made no statement as he introduced the bill, HR 612, and was not available for comment, aides said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs, with a priority system that puts disabled combat veterans at the front of the line for treatment, was late in endorsing the current two years of coverage for combat veterans – no questions asked and without any fees – that began after the 1991 Gulf War, when many veterans were suffering from mysterious ailments, which came to be known as Gulf War syndrome and defied traditional methods of linking the problems to military service…
While current operations have not led to similar mystery illnesses, proponents of extending health care coverage have argued that post-traumatic stress disorder, already seen in large numbers of returning veterans, can be slow to appear and difficult to diagnosis. Additionally, having automatic health coverage in place makes the transition from military to civilian life
easier for veterans, since they are not left without coverage if a health problem that does not have a clear cause materializes.
While the VA has accepted the extension of the two years of automatic health coverage for veterans of current combat operations, VA officials opposed a longer period of coverage when asked about the issue in a 2005 congressional hearing.
At the time, VA officials said two years is long enough for veterans to have their health problems assessed and be put into the health system, where they might have to pay fees if their health problems are not clearly service-connected.