WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, expressed great satisfaction with Senate passage of S. 2162, a sweeping veterans' mental health care bill. S. 2162, the Veterans Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008, passed the Senate today by unanimous consent. The bill makes various improvements to veterans' mental health care and other forms of health care, and is a tribute to Iraq war veteran Justin Bailey.
"Justin's story is far too common: he survived the war in Iraq only to be lost to PTSD and substance abuse-related suicide," said Akaka. "Invisible wounds such as PTSD are an injury - and an enemy - that many veterans face when they return home from war. This bill will provide better mental health support for our wounded warriors."
S. 2162's improvements to veterans' mental health care include:
S. 2162 also makes significant improvements in other areas of veterans' health care:
Rural Veterans: More than doubles the beneficiary travel mileage reimbursement (from 11 to 28.5 cents per mile) eligible veterans can receive for travel to receive VA care, permanently sets the deductible to $3 each way for such travel, creates a pilot program on the use of peers to enhance outreach to rural veterans, and encourages coordination between VA and rural community-based resources.
Emergency Care for Veterans: Corrects current procedures used by VA to reimburse community hospitals for emergency care provided to eligible veterans.
VA Epilepsy Centers of Excellence: Recognizing the link between traumatic brain injury (a signature wound of the current conflicts) and epilepsy, establishes six VA Epilepsy Centers of Excellence focused on research, education, and clinical care for epilepsy.
Veterans' Pain Care: Requires a pain care program for all VA inpatient facilities for long-term mental health and substance abuse care and prevent long-term chronic pain disability, expands VA health care staff education on pain assessment and treatment, and increases VA research on pain care.
Veterans' Caregivers: Extends authority for VA to provide institutional and non-institutional long-term care and caregiver assistance.
Medical Construction: Authorizes a series of major medical facility construction projects and outpatient clinic leases.
Homelessness: Creates targeted programs to assist low-income veterans, and increases funding capacity for the successful VA Grant and Per Diem program, which assists community-based organizations that serve homeless veterans.
Female Veterans: Requires a review of VA facilities to ensure that they are up to par for female veterans.
Rehabilitating Veterans: Expands a program to help formerly incarcerated veterans reintegrate into society through employment counseling and other services.
S. 2162, introduced by Chairman Akaka, passed the Senate Committee, then full Senate unanimously before being amended in the House, then passed by that body. The bill will now be sent to the President for his signature.