WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) applauded the inclusion of Wounded Warrior legislation in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (H.R. 1585). In his roles as Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, and a Senate conferee on the Defense Authorization Bill, Senator Akaka worked diligently on the bill's provisions which relate most directly to the care of servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wounded Warrior provisions in the bill are the product of unprecedented work between the Senate Committees on Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs.
Senator Akaka stated: "Veterans' health care faces new challenges, and requires new solutions. The Wounded Warrior provisions in the Defense Authorization bill will improve veterans health care, especially for veterans with traumatic brain injury and mental health problems. The provisions also address the systemic problems servicemembers face in their transition from military service to veteran status. Our wounded warriors deserve a ‘seamless transition,' when leaving the military."
"I am especially proud that this bill will extend automatic VA health care eligibility for returning veterans from two years to five years," said Akaka. Chairman Akaka has pushed to extend the term of automatic health care eligibility for returning veterans, in light of the increased number of returning combat veterans suffering from invisible wounds such as mental illness that are sometimes not immediately apparent. Akaka made this provision a top priority when taking over the Veterans Affairs Committee Chairmanship this year.
Akaka also noted the increased attention on veterans issues prompted by articles in the Washington Post, and he called on his colleagues to support the legislation: "Reports on the unacceptable conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center helped to highlight the need for VA and DoD to adapt to the changing needs of this newest generation of combat veterans. This Wounded Warrior legislation was developed with close collaboration between the Committees on Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs. I urge my colleagues to move quickly on this bill."
The Defense bill (H.R. 1585) includes provisions from S. 1233, the "Traumatic Brain Injury and Health Programs Improvements Act of 2007," introduced by Chairman Akaka earlier this year. The provisions from S. 1233 would:
H.R. 1585 also includes provisions that would:
• Extend the period of automatic eligibility for VA health care from two years to five years, to improve VA's capacity to track returning servicemembers and detect service-related health issues which can sometimes take years to develop;