Bills To Expand Veterans’ Health Care Move Forward
The House on Wednesday passed six bills that would expand no-cost care for veterans, establish brain injury research centers and make chiropractic care more accessible, among other things (Yoest, CQ Today, 5/23).
Under one bill (HR 612), no-cost health care for returning troops would be expanded from two to five years. The bill, which is geared toward veterans from the Persian Gulf War through present and future conflicts, aims to help those veterans who have health problems that appear years after they have completed military service.
The House Veterans' Affairs Committee earlier this month approved a substitute amendment to the legislation that would expand health care available retroactively to all veterans who meet the bill's criteria, rather than only those veterans discharged after its enactment.
The House also approved legislation (HR 2199) that would establish traumatic brain injury research centers and mandate a comprehensive program for treating traumatic brain injuries at Veterans Affairs health centers.
Another bill (HR 1863) would authorize mobile veterans' centers to provide advice on the disability claims process.
The House on Wednesday approved legislation (HR 1470) that would expand the availability of chiropractic care to 75 VA medical centers by 2009 and all VA medical centers by 2011.
In addition, the House approved legislation (HR 67) that would establish a grant program for state veterans' outreach programs. The bill was approved with a substitute amendment by Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) that would require county veterans' services offices to submit a three-year spending plan to be eligible for the grants.
The House also approved legislation (HR 2239) that would expand eligibility for vocational rehabilitation to disabled troops not yet discharged from the military but who are likely to be discharged because of their condition California Healthline, 5/16).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "The 110th Congress is delivering on our promise for a new direction for America. Nowhere is that more important than the treatment of our troops and our veterans."
Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) said, "Although we're debating this war ferociously on the House floor ... all the Republicans and Democrats are united in saying that every young man and woman who returns from this war is going to get all the care, the love, the honor and the dignity that a grateful nation can bestow" (Lengell, Washington Times, 5/24).
The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a markup session on June 27, but it has not yet announced which bills will be considered.
The House on Wednesday also passed legislation (HR 2429) that would allow physicians in the National Guard or Reserves who are called to active duty to continue to receive Medicare reimbursements for the duration of their deployments (CQ Today, 5/23).
Reps. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Sam Johnson (R-Texas) co-sponsored the legislation (Epstein, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/24).
The bill would change a rule under which physicians who take a leave of absence from their practices and hire substitutes to provide care can continue to receive Medicare reimbursements for no more than 60 days. Thompson estimates that the legislation would affect about 3,000 physicians.
The American Medical Association and the Reserve Officers Association support the legislation, and CMS officials have said that they will not oppose the bill (California Healthline, 5/21).
According to the Chronicle, Thompson and Johnson "never even had much of a chance to formally introduce their bill before it was called up on the House floor for a vote Wednesday, so great was the bipartisan feeling that volunteer doctor-soldiers shouldn't be penalized by their own government for serving in the Reserves or National Guard."
Johnson said, "It's time we help our weekend warriors to keep their practices and keep their patients." He added, "I'm surprised we haven't heard of this problem before."
Thompson's office hopes for quick Senate action on the measure (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/24).