Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, today I am introducing legislation which is drawn in large measure from S. 2969, the proposed Veterans' Health Care Authorization Act, as reported by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs last Congress.
VA faces a looming shortage of health care personnel. Without concerted and timely action, this situation will only worsen in the years ahead. This is especially true as more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans return home injured and in need of new and specialized care. In order to avert this problem, VA must be able to offer competitive salaries, work schedules, and benefits. The provisions in the bill I am introducing will allow VA to recruit and retain nurses, home health aides, and specialty care providers.
This bill also contains measures that would improve the efficiency of health care delivery to veterans, including a number of pilot programs designed to help VA find new and innovative ways to deliver better, faster, and more comprehensive treatment.
Women make up an ever growing percentage of the Armed Forces. As such, they are also making up an ever growing percentage of the veteran population. While there have been efforts over the years to address the unique needs of women veterans, there is much more that VA might do. To that end, there are provisions in this bill to address current shortcomings and help VA better respond to the increased demand for care from women veterans. I particularly thank Senator Murray for her leadership on this issue.
One of the most troubling and difficult challenges of warfare, which can be seen particularly in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, is diagnosing and treating those who suffer from the invisible wounds of war. The lack of understanding of these injuries, the stigma associated with them, and many other factors make effective treatment difficult. Last Congress, legislation I authored, the Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act, was enacted as Public Law 110-387. This Congress, I seek to improve upon those advances, and to continue to provide accessible, cutting-edge care for those afflicted with invisible wounds. This bill would expand eligibility and authority for the Vet Centers to provide needed services, and would commission a comprehensive study on suicides among veterans so that we can improve efforts to prevent such tragedies.
This bill will also provide support for homeless veterans through a proposed series of innovative pilot programs. These programs are designed to significantly improve VA outreach to these veterans, in order to help them access the benefits and services provided by VA.
I look forward to working with all of our colleagues to bring this legislation to the full Senate for consideration early in this Session.
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January 15, 2009