WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) yesterday introduced legislation that would make veterans returning from active duty eligible for VA health care for five years after their separation from active duty. Under current law, servicemembers have unfettered access to the VA health care for only two years upon their return, if they are not service-connected for a disability. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) has signed on as a cosponsor to this legislation.
The "Returning Servicemember Health Care Access Act" will extend VA health care benefits to military personnel returning from active duty and moving to veteran status, giving our servicemen and women the best health care available during their transition. Many experts predict that up to 30 percent of servicemembers returning from combat will need some form of psychiatric care upon their return.
Senator Akaka said: "With regard to mental health in particular, two years is often insufficient time for symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental illnesses to appear. Five years would provide a larger, more appropriate window in which to address these problems. We face a growing group of recently discharged veterans and returning National Guard and Reservists who have faced combat, and this legislation will help smooth their transition to civilian life.
"In Hawaii alone, over 3,500 National Guard and Reservists have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is our responsibility as a nation to provide for their healthy return to civilian life," Senator Akaka said.
In Hawaii, 25-30 percent of veterans receive mental health services from the Hawaii VA. Over one-third of these patients are diagnosed with PTSD. The legislation Senator Akaka introduced today will help the 315,600 veterans nationwide who have been inactive for more than two years but fewer than five. And it will continue to will help thousands of new veterans in the future.
Senator Akaka is the Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.
January 25, 2007