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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Outgoing Congress Gives Vets Needed Improvements

Outgoing Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will go down in history as being the one to author the final piece of comprehensive legislation passed into law by the Republican-controlled Congress. The $3.2 billion Veterans Benefits bill (S. 3421) was introduced by Sen. Larry Craig [R-ID], and passed on the last day of the 109th Congress.

Improvements include:

The new law will allow the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to:
  • proceed with major construction projects across the country
  • improve mental health care access
  • enhance telehealth outreach
  • increase assistance to address homelessness
  • improve protections for veterans’ personal information
  • establish an Office of Rural Health
  • create a pilot program that makes non-VA facilities – such as private nursing homes or community hospitals – eligible for state veterans' home per diem payments
  • reimburse veterans homes run by state governments for costs of care provided to veterans with a 70 percent or higher service-connected disability
  • veterans in those homes – veterans with service-connected conditions rated at least 50 percent disabled – will be able to obtain their medications from the VA
"This change will allow veterans to stay closer to home and loved ones. I think that’s important," Craig said.

Among its many provisions, the bill adds $65 million to increase the number of clinicians treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and $2 million for additional blind rehabilitation specialists and increases the number of facilities where the specialists will be located. It also authorizes VA to designate six Parkinson's Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers of Excellence, and at least two Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence.

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