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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

House Omnibus Bill to Ease Post-Combat Readjustment, Vet Homelessness Moves Forward

Yesterday the House Veterans' Affairs Committee approved an omnibus measure, the Veterans’ Health Care Improvement Act of 2007 (HR 2874). The bill was introduced by Congressman Mike Michaud [D-ME], Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health. Details:

The purpose of this bill is to improve VA’s capacity in several areas, including mental health and homelessness. ... “Many of our veterans are exposed to unique stresses during their military service,” said Michaud. “Therapeutic readjustment programs have helped our veterans deal with a number of health related issues, including post traumatic stress disorder. This bill will allow the VA to make grants to conduct workshop programs that have been shown to assist in therapeutic readjustment and rehabilitation.

H.R. 2874 also expands readjustment and mental health services for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans. Expanding access to these programs for veterans is important because an increasing number of recent veterans are suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In fact, according to the Government Accountability Office, an estimated one-third of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are facing mental health challenges, and up to 300,000 troops are expected to return from Iraq suffering from TBI.

H.R. 2874 contains several other provisions that seek to improve veteran’s health care and assistance for homeless veterans. “Each night, as many as 200,000 veterans, both male and female, are homeless. Many more veterans are at high risk of homelessness because of poverty, dismal living conditions, and lack of support,” said Michaud. “This bill takes steps to improve homeless assistance programs provided by the VA, and we will be doing more in this area in the coming months.”

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The bill expands and extends the successful VA program of referral and counseling for at-risk veterans transitioning from certain institutions. The program is extended until 2011 and expanded from 6 locations to 12. These services are largely directed toward incarcerated veterans. Section 8 of the bill requires the VA to ensure that domiciliary programs are adequate in capacity and safety to meet the needs of women veterans. And critically, section 9 of H.R. 2874 authorizes funding for the Secretary to provide financial assistance to eligible entities to provide supportive services for very low-income veteran families residing in permanent housing.

The bill also creates a new grant program to encourage innovative transportation options to improve access to VA health care in rural areas and provides permanent authority for VA treatment of participants in DOD chemical and biological testing.

Read the Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report for a list of other veteran-specific legislation approved by the House Veterans' Affairs Committee yesterday.

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