Akaka Introduces Bill to Enhance Veteran Centers

Washington, DC - Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) today introduced the "Vet Center Enhancement Act of 2005," which would enhance care and services provided through Vet Centers. In Hawaii these centers include: Hilo Vet Center, Honolulu Vet Center, Kailua-Kona Vet Center, Kauai Vet Center and Maui Vet Center.

"This legislation would provide the resources both in dollars and human capital that Vet Centers need to serve and reach out to the growing number of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans and surviving family members," said Senator Akaka.

The legislation would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire adequate outreach workers to ensure returning servicemembers get the care they need. Despite increases in the number of veterans coming for care to Vet Centers, the budget for the program has remained stagnant. This legislation would also authorize funding for the program from $93 million to $180 million. Finally, the Vet Center Enhancement Act of 2005 highlights bereavement counseling.

Senator Akaka said, "The number of brave servicemembers who die while defending freedom continues to rise, leaving many surviving family members in need for help. Under current law, VA has the authority to provide bereavement counseling to the immediate family. However, it is necessary to clarify that parents of a deceased servicemember qualify for this bereavement counseling and that such care could be provided at Vet Centers. This legislation would make the clarifications."

Experts predict that as many as 30 percent OEF/OIF returning servicemembers may need mental health care. Vet Centers provide this service using trained veteran staff members who can relate to the experiences of the veterans seeking services. In 2004, Vet Centers cared for 9,597 OEF/OIF veterans and 2005 projections are that Vet Centers will see 12,656 OEF/OIF veterans.

"We must make the readjustment period for the returning service members and the surviving family members of deceased servicemembers as smooth as possible," said Senator Akaka.