House Members Introduce Bill To Require Department of Veterans Affairs To Study Mental Disability Payments
House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill that would expand health care services for veterans and study "why veterans' mental-disability payments vary widely" nationwide, Knight Ridder/Tallahassee Democrat reports. Reports indicate that the disability payments veterans receive for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions vary by region. Disability payments under the Department of Veterans Affairs health system range from $108 to $2,299 monthly, based on the severity of the mental or physical disability.
Under the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), VA would have to study the quality and consistency of disability claims for PTSD. The bill also calls for improved efforts to inform veterans about PTSD symptoms and services, an increase in the number of experts on the condition at VA health care facilities, an extension of VA health care services for veterans who served in combat, and improved coordination between VA and the Department of Defense to help veterans with their transition out of the military.
Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a statement that "we need a better understanding of how PTSD claims are adjudicated and why different ratings are issued by different regional offices." Prospects for the bill in the House remain "unclear," and the legislation "hasn't been introduced in the Senate," according to Knight Ridder/Democrat (Adams, Knight Ridder/Tallahassee Democrat, 4/13).
In related news, the New York Times on Thursday examined how the increased cost of military health care might force the Pentagon "to choose between the costs of new weapons and old soldiers."
According to the Times, the annual cost of the main military health plan, Tricare, has doubled since 2001 and in the near future will reach $50 billion and account for more than 10% of the Pentagon budget. Health care for veterans and retirees will account for about 75% of the total military health care budget plan, the Times reports. In addition, according to budget documents, Tricare for Life, a new health plan for military retirees, will cost at least $100 billion over the next 10 years -- about the same as the largest weapons system currently under development by the Pentagon.
Gen. John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, called the cost of military health care "the single most daunting thing that we deal with out there today." Pentagon officials are "warning Congress that something has to give" with Tricare for Life, but many lawmakers "believe that criticizing it would be political suicide," according to the Times.
Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said that the United States must maintain both the military health care system and new weapons systems and that Congress will "just have to ask the president to allocate more money" (Weiner, New York Times, 4/14).