Mr. President, as chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, I normally come to the Senate floor and speak on various veterans issues--I advocate for increased screening and treatment and mental health issues for our veterans; I remind my fellow Senators that veterans of their home States must file income taxes for 2008 in order to receive their tax rebates; I argue for increased funding for VA's vital mission; and I urge the Senate to approve a new GI bill. Today, however, I come to the Senate floor to speak about one particular veteran--a Vietnam veteran who has dedicated his long career, enormous talents, and tireless efforts to better the treatment and the lives of all who have served our Nation in uniform. Today, I will speak of my staff director, William Brew.
Bill has just completed 20 years of service to the Senate. His entire tenure in the Senate has been at the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Bill started in the Senate on April 3, 1978. At that time, his desk was in what is now the committee's hearing room. The chairman was Alan Cranston of California. The major issues were Agent Orange, judicial review, and the emerging medical condition that had newly been labeled post-traumatic stress disorder. As a former naval officer, and a lawyer, Bill was thrown right into these issues, and his presence made a huge difference.
An immediate and pressing need was to provide psychological counseling to Vietnam veterans at a time when the war and, sadly, even those who fought in it, remained a divisive issue for our Nation. Men and women who had served during that conflict did not return to heroes' welcomes, yellow ribbons, and joyous neighborhood celebrations we so often see today. In 1980, in Van Nuys, CA, one of the very first vet centers opened and offered a means of providing community-based counseling and outreach services to those who were returning from Southeast Asia. Now, there are 232 scattered around the country.
Millions of veterans and their families from all wars have received counseling and support through these centers. Bill was instrumental in developing the legislation that established these facilities and was present at the creation of vet centers.
Bill was deeply involved in the debates surrounding Agent Orange and quickly became an expert on an issue whose vocabulary resolved around dioxin, defoliation, Ranch Hand, and a variety of health problems and concerns. His efforts contributed to the development of wide-ranging initiatives designed to address the needs of those who believe their exposure has adversely affected their health.
Bill was instrumental in the passage of legislation in 1996, which fundamentally changed the law with regard to eligibility for VA health care. Eligibility Reform, as this law is known, eradicated the line between inpatient and outpatient care. VA, for the first time, was authorized to provide a standard benefits package of services in the most appropriate care setting. This seemingly simple change enabled VA to open up community-based clinics all across this country. Veterans care has been dramatically improved because of the increased access to the now 700 clinics dotting the landscape.
Assisting disabled veterans to reenter civilian life has always been a high priority for the committee. Bill worked on legislation to revamp federally assisted State vocational rehabilitation programs, giving priority to the most seriously disabled.
Bill was instrumental in the establishment of the Court of Veterans Claims, which gave judicial review to veterans' benefit determinations, and the committee recently approved legislation to expand the Court.
It is little known that Bill has served on both sides of the aisle, working not only for Chairmen Cranston and Rockefeller, and now myself, but also working for Chairman Alan Simpson, my Republican colleague from Wyoming. In 1980, when the Democrats entered the minority, Bill remained a majority staff member under Chairman Simpson for 9 months before returning to Ranking Member Cranston's staff.
I congratulate Bill for his service and tell him that I am grateful for that, and to thank him for his 20 years of dedicated and faithful service to the Senate and to our Nation's veterans.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
July 31, 2008