Filner Sends Letter to Colleagues on Accomplishments for America’s Veterans

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Rep Bob Filner at center

From Rep Bob Filner, House Committee on Veterans Affairs

– Accomplishments for Our Nation’s Veterans -or- What Republicans Didn’t Do for America’s Veterans –

 1.      Updated the G.I. Bill for the 21st Century

  • The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is the greatest overhaul of the G.I. Bill in over 20 years, covering the cost of a college education at a public university (P.L. 110-252).
  • Reserve and National Guard benefits are tied to length of service to better reflect the sacrifice of these citizen soldiers.  Service members and veterans now have the option of transferring education benefits to their spouses and children. 
  • Since August 2009, the VA has issued Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to almost 250,000 individuals and $1.2 billion in education benefits have been paid to veteran students.

 2.      Delivered Budgets Worthy of Our Veterans

  • The Democratic Congress added $23 billion for veterans’ health care and services.  Since 2007, Congress has provided a 60% increase in VA discretionary funding.  
  • House Democrats did more to increase veterans funding in the last three years than the Republican Congress did in 12 years.
  • Even during wartime, the Bush Administration strangled the VA for funds, proposed user fees, recommended increased co-pays, and did not invest in research to provide the best care for veterans suffering from injuries we did not know much about. 

 3.      Secured Advance Appropriations for Veterans Health Care

  • Congress successfully secured advance appropriations for the VA, for the first time providing a stable and uninterrupted source of funding for medical care for veterans  (P.L. 111-81). 

 4.      Increased Support for Veteran Caregivers  

  • The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 creates a program to offer caregiver training, access to mental health counseling, and 24-hour respite care in the veteran’s home (P.L. 111-163).   
  • The Caregivers Act also allows eligible veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom to select a caregiver to receive a financial stipend along with travel and lodging expenses associated with the veteran’s care. 

 5.      Improved Health Care Treatment & Access

  • The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 provides an additional three years of VA health care eligibility for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans (for a total of five years) and improves and expands the VA’s ability to care for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury (P.L. 110-181).     
  • Additional funding allowed VA to open up the health care system to new non-service connected, Priority Group 8 veterans, a group of veterans shut out of the VA health care system by the Bush Administration since 2003.  VA has raised the income threshold by 10 percent to enroll 193,000 new veterans and has plans to raise the income threshold by 15 percent to enroll an additional 99,000 veterans. 

 6.      Addressed Urgent Mental Health Needs of Veterans

  • The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 addresses the troubling reality of post-traumatic stress and troubling incidents of suicide among the veteran population by requiring a much-needed and long-awaited study on veterans’ suicide and requiring the VA to provide counseling referrals for members of the Armed Forces who are not otherwise eligible for readjustment counseling (P.L. 111-163).
  • The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act addresses the troubling increase of suicide in our veteran community.  It offers comprehensive services to veterans and established a 24-hour toll-free suicide hotline which has served more than 115,000 veterans, family members, and friends (P.L. 110-110).     
  • The Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008 expands mental health services, increases research through the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and provides much needed counseling for families of veterans.  This bill also mandates a program to help rural veterans get the health care they need closer to home (P.L. 110-387).
  • VA simplified the process for a veteran to claim service connection for post-traumatic stress disorder to immediately help combat veterans get the help they need.  Now, proof of service in uniform in a war zone, combined with a later diagnosis of PTSD, will be all that is required. 

 7.      Instituted Reforms to Address the Benefits Backlog

  • Congress continues to focus added attention on the disgraceful claims backlog by adding staff to reduce the time to process new claims.  Already, the VA has hired 8,300 additional claims processors.   
  • The Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 provides essential reforms to bring the claims processing system up-to-date for more accurate and timely delivery of benefits to veterans, families, and survivors (P.L. 110-389).  The Committee continues to monitor the on-going implementation. 

 8.      Updated VA Home Loan Program 

  • Sweeping legislation provided veterans with the necessary time to readjust from the battlefield back into their communities without fear of losing their home.  The new law prohibits foreclosure for nine months after military service (P.L. 110-298).
  • The Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 provides a much needed increase to the VA loan limit to better match current home prices (P.L. 110-298).
  • The Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008 revamped the VA home loan program by enabling more veterans to refinance with VA loans   (P.L. 110-389).    
  • The Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act of 2008 expands homeownership opportunities by making thousands of veterans eligible for low-interest loans (P.L. 110-245).  

 9.      Improved Care for Women Veterans

  • The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 expands and improves VA services for the 1.8 million women veterans, anticipates the expected increase of women warriors over the next five years, and authorizes VA to provide health care for newborn infants of women veterans (P.L. 111-163).

 10.  Expanded Veteran Homelessness Prevention and Care

  • The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 expands the number of places where homeless veterans may receive supportive services.  For veterans struggling without a roof over their heads, this small change in the law will make a big difference in their lives (P.L. 111-163).
  • The House passed H.R. 4810, the End Veteran Homelessness Act of 2010, which increases funding to successful programs for homeless veterans, requires each VA medical center that provides supporting housing services to provide housing counselors, strengthens permanent housing programs, and pays special interest to the needs of homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children. 

 11.  Increased Health Care Access for Rural Veterans

  • Congress provided an additional $30 million in funding to increase the number of Community Based Outpatient Clinics for the more than 3.2 million veterans living in rural areas who do not have ready access to VA hospitals (P.L. 111-117).
  • Congress dramatically increased the veteran’s mileage reimbursement from 11 cents to 41.5 cents – the same as a government employee. 
  • The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 establishes a grant program for veteran service organizations to provide transportation options to veterans in highly rural areas and increases the health care options provided to our rural veterans by authorizing stronger partnerships with community providers and the Department of Health and Human Services (P.L. 111-163).

 12.  Strengthened Research Efforts at VA

  • The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 authorizes the establishment of multi-medical center research corporations by merging single facility nonprofit research corporations and improves accountability of the corporations         (P.L. 111-163).  
  • Congress invested in healing and helping injured veterans by adding $144 million for medical and prosthetic research, an increase of more than 25% over three years. 

 13.  Instituted New Cooperative Approaches – Seamless Transition and Continuum of Care

  • President Obama ordered the DoD and the VA to work together to define and build a Joint Virtual Lifetime Electronic record that will ultimately contain administrative and medical information from the day an individual enters military service throughout their military career, and into the veteran phase of life.  The Committee continues to examine the progress being made by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs in ensuring electronic health record interoperability. 

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