Dole, Shalala Urge Congress To Pass Veterans’ Health Bill
Leaders of a presidential commission on Wednesday during a House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing urged Congress to pass legislation that would make "fundamental changes" in veterans' health care, the Washington Times reports (Lengell, Washington Times, 9/20).
President Bush in March named former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), a disabled veteran of World War II, and University of Miami President and former HHS Secretary Donna Shalala as co-chairs of the commission (California Healthline, 7/26).
Members of the commission expressed the need for diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying that care should be given regardless of the duration between return from war and development of symptoms.
The commission also recommended shifting more responsibility for awarding benefits from the Defense Department to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which the commission said would allow for a better-coordinated system, reducing bureaucracy for veterans applying for disability benefits (Lengell, Washington Times, 9/20).
In July, the nine-member commission issued a report recommending changes -- most of which require action by the White House, Pentagon or VA -- including increasing benefits for family members caring for injured veterans, creating a Web site for medical records and revamping the way disability pay is awarded. Recommendations regarding raising some disability benefits, improving PTSD care and strengthening work-leave and insurance benefits for family members require congressional action.
The Senate has passed legislation that is awaiting action in the House. The House is considering adopting some additional recommendations by the commission (Yen, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 9/19).
At the hearing, Dole said, "Wars change, people change, techniques change, injuries change, and we need to keep our military and veterans' health care system up to date." Shalala said, "The consequences of PTSD can be devastating," adding, "Therefore, we ask that any veteran of the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts be able to obtain prompt access to the VA's extensive resources for diagnosis and treatment." She also said, "Many families are caring for their injured service member at home, and many of these service members have complex injuries," adding, "Families are unprepared to provide 24-7 care. Those that try wear out quickly" (Washington Times, 9/20).