In This Issue:
1. House Approves Record VA Bill

2. HVAC Holds Category 8 Hearing
3. VA Benefits Hearing in House
4. Walter Reed Fixes Considered in VFW-Supported Bill

1. House Approves Record VA Bill

VFW is hailing last Thursday”s House of Representatives vote of 409-2 as a landmark decision that follows through on campaign promises to boost Department of Veterans Affairs funding. Commander-in-Chief Gary Kurpius called it an unprecedented budget that will enable the VA to better plan and care for our wounded veterans of past, present and future.

– Specifically, H.R. 2642, the 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill, would increase the VA budget $6.7 billion above 2007 levels. It would hire 1,100 more VA claims adjudicators to help reduce a backlog of more than 685,000 compensation and pension and education claims. It would provide $600 million for three “Centers of Excellence” in mental health care, and five polytrauma centers to care for the needs of thousands of men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious mental and physical conditions. The bill would increase VA maintenance and repair budgets. And, for the benefit of Category 7 and 8 veterans, the House bill rejects an administration proposal to create annual enrollment fees and raise prescription co-payments for almost 2 million veterans with nonservice-connected disabilities.
– On the Defense Department side, H.R. 2642 would provide a record $21.4 billion for military construction, family housing, and base realignment and closure actions. The increase would equate to better barracks, family housing and training facilities. It supports the relocation of 70,000 troops from bases in Korea and Europe to U.S. soil, and provides funding to increase military strength by 65,000 soldiers, 27,000 Marines, and 9,000 National Guard and Reserve troops.
– Kurpius said the bill lives up to the specialized healthcare needs of today”s war veterans, and improves force structure and quality of life programs for our servicemembers and their families. He now urges the Senate to act quickly on their version of the bill so that a consolidated funding package can reach the president before Oct. 1. It has been eight years since the VA was able to begin a new fiscal year with a fully-funded, on-time budget.

2. HVAC Holds Category 8 Hearing
The House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the status of Category 8 veterans in the VA health care system. In 2003, then VA Secretary Tony Principi banned the enrollment of new category 8 veterans, a policy that has not changed. Category 8 veterans are above the income threshold established by the VA and do not have service-connected disabilities.

Witnesses before the committee represented several veterans” organizations, Harvard Medical School Associate Professor of Medicine Dr. Stephanie Woolhandler, and Dr. Michael J. Kussman, undersecretary for health for VA.

The ban on new Category 8 enrollments was meant to be temporary,” said Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA). Dr. Kussman agreed to provide a report to the Committee that will detail the needs of the Department to ensure access and quality of care for Category 8 veterans, including the VA”s estimates as to necessary facility and infrastructure improvements and increased staffing levels. VFW strongly supports allowing Category 8 veterans back into the VA health care system.

3. VA Benefits Hearing in House
The VFW submitted testimony this week on several bills before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. The bills included HR 156, which extends VA compensation to survivors of former POWs; HR 704, which amends the remarriage age from 57 to 55, after which the remarriage of a surviving spouse of a deceased veteran shall not result in termination of DIC; and HR 585 which makes retroactive the benefits for traumatic injury insurance.

For more information and our testimony, visit the HVAC website at:
http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/schedule110/june07/06-19-07/witness.shtml.

4. Walter Reed Fixes Considered in VFW-Supported Bill
VFW attended a press conference in support of legislation designed to begin fixing the problems highlighted by the Walter Reed Medical Center reports. S. 1606, The Dignified Treatment for Wounded Warriors Act, would establish a comprehensive policy on the care and management between VA and DOD with regard to all aspects of a soldier transitioning from military to civilian life. Provisions of the bill include assigning case managers to help in the coordination of health care, physical evaluations, rehabilitation, mental health services, and disability claims benefits. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), has been placed on the fast-track by the Senate.

For the entire text of the bill, go to: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:s.01606