WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), a member of the Committee, announced today that Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake has allocated an additional $2 million to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This decision follows months of communication between Secretary Peake and Senators Akaka and Sanders, including a recent face-to-face meeting, on boosting the Center's budget.
"I commend Secretary Peake for directing additional funds to the National Center for PTSD. An increasing number of veterans are struggling with PTSD and other mental health issues, which increases the demands placed on the National Center to research new and more effective ways of treating this debilitating disorder," said Akaka. "I am delighted to have worked with Senator Sanders on this issue. He has been a very tenacious advocate on behalf of veterans from Vermont and across the Nation."
Senator Sanders stated, "I am proud to have worked with Chairman Akaka to secure this $2 million increase in the budget for the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, with a major division based in Vermont. This funding is important for Vermont and the nation because it will go toward expanding the staffing, research, and educational capability of the center which is the nation's leader in PTSD research. At a time when studies tell us that over 300,000 or nearly one out of every five service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of PTSD or major depression, this is the least we can do. We must do everything we can to make sure our brave men and women in uniform receive the care they need when they return from war."
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT.), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, has pushed the Department of Veterans Affairs to boost the Center's baseline budget. Leahy said, "It is about time that the Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized the critical work that is underway at Vermont's National PTSD Center. The Center's work load has increased dramatically since September 11th and with the onset of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The Center has helped improve the diagnosis and treatment of this condition that affects all-too-many of our returning troops. The knowledge the Vermont Headquarters and national satellite offices have gained has also improved the treatment of civilians who have experienced traumatic events. I am relieved that the Department of Veterans Affairs has finally listened to Congress' persistent arguments and added this much needed funding, which will allow the center to hire more researchers and expand its essential activities."
In recent months, Akaka and Sanders have engaged in a dialogue with Secretary Peake on the need to bolster the National Center for PTSD's budget. On January 24, 2008, they sent a letter to Secretary Peake regarding the Center's increased workload and relatively flat budget in recent years. On April 1, 2008, Akaka and Sanders met with Secretary Peake to raise the issue again, along with other health care-related concerns.
The National Center for PTSD, which consists of seven VA academic centers of excellence across the mainland U.S. and Hawaii, is headquartered in White River Junction, Vermont. The Center has taken on a larger mission in recent years, due in part to the ongoing wars and the increasing number of veterans suffering from PTSD. According to a recent RAND study, nearly one in five Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans - 300,000 total - report symptoms of PTSD or major depression. Meanwhile, the Center's budget, adjusted for inflation, has been virtually flat for the past half-decade, and overall staff levels have been reduced since 1999.