Veterans Deserve Top Benefits

Feb 19, 2008 Issues: Veterans

Last week, as part of National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans Week, students and volunteers throughout Oakland County brought Valentine’s cards, gifts and warm wishes to local hospitalized veterans.

The National Salute provided an opportunity for communities to say “thank you” to hospitalized veterans who face the physical and mental wounds of combat long after their military service has been completed. We owe a debt of gratitude to these community members and organizations who aid and honor veterans throughout the year.
For those in elected office, it is vital that we support our hospitalized veterans — and all veterans — with our budgets and our actions. After years of veterans budgets that fell behind or barely kept up with inflation, the new majority in Congress is providing the resources to care for veterans and ensure opportunities are available after their service is complete.
In 2007, the new Congress increased health care and benefits funding for veterans by $11.8 billion — $5.5 billion more than the president requested. This is the largest funding increase in the 77-year history of the Veterans Administration (VA) and a larger increase than the combined total of the six previous years in Congress. Our veterans have earned and deserve the health care this funding provides.
With these resources, the VA will hire 3,100 new claims processors to reduce the unconscionable six-month delay for veterans waiting to receive their earned benefits.
This funding will also ensure that thousands of homeless veterans will have a roof over their heads and veterans who use the VA health care system will have better care, more doctors and shorter waiting lines for medical appointments.

At the same time, Congress rejected indefensible Bush Administration proposals to significantly increase Tricare insurance fees and drug co-payments for military retirees and their families.
One year ago this week, media reports uncovered abhorrent conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other veterans facilities. Congress responded to these conditions by passing recommendations of the Dole-Shalala Commission necessary to improve treatment for our wounded warriors, and by providing nearly $1.5 billion in new funding for preventative construction maintenance at our VA hospitals and clinics. We must be more vigilant in our oversight.

The Walter Reed investigations also brought to light the challenges that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injuries pose to our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (H.R. 327) requires the development and implementation of a comprehensive program designed to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans and Congress has mandated $2.9 billion be spent on mental health care.
While we can never fully repay our nation’s veterans for their service and sacrifice, we must, at a minimum, do our very best to ensure that they are properly cared for when they return home. In the past 12 months, a great deal has been accomplished for our veterans, but there is much more that remains to be done.
The phrase “Support our troops” should be as real for elected officials as it is for the numerous community members that volunteer their own time in so many ways to support our troops at home.