Reid: Senate Passes Long-Overdue Health Care Overhaul, Pay Raise For Troops

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 WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today after the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the “Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act,” which lays out a comprehensive path to address shortfalls in the care of injured troops and veterans, and gives members of the military a 3.5 percent pay raise:

“I remain deeply disappointed in some of the conditions I saw earlier this year at Walter Reed Medical Center – just one deficiency among many across our veterans’ health care system – and I am proud that the Senate today has passed the Wounded Warriors Act to address those problems.  It is our duty to ensure our courageous service-members do not fall through the cracks when they need that care the most.

“This bill will improve the substandard facilities like those at Walter Reed, expand medical care for veterans, bridge gaps between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and resolve inadequate severance pay.  And despite the President’s objection, we are also giving our troops a well-deserved pay raise.  Since taking over the majority, Democrats have provided billions of dollars to help our veterans because Americans willing to pay the ultimate price for our nation should receive the care they deserve, from enlistment to retirement and beyond.

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President Bush Should Side With Wounded Warriors

Today the Senate passed the Wounded Warriors Act to improve military health care and ease the transition from military health care to the Veterans Administration health care. Since regaining the majority, Democrats have passed a number of measures to ensure that veterans and injured troops receive the care they deserve. Today also marked the release of the Dole-Shalala Commission’s report which provides the Bush Administration some key recommendations for improving health care for veterans and injured troops. Troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have faced a myriad of obstacles to getting the care they deserve, including bureaucratic backlogs, poor facilities and lost records. Despite pledging to act quickly on the recommendations, the White House has already backpedaled saying that the President will not immediately act on the Commission’s findings. President Bush must stand with our nation’s wounded warriors and ensure they have full access to the care they deserve.

SENATE DEMOCRATS ARE PROVIDING FOR OUR NATION’S INJURED TROOPS AND VETERANS

Senate Democrats Passed Wounded Warriors Bill to Upgrade Military Health Care and Ease the Transition from Military Health Care to Veterans Health Care. The Senate passed a bill to upgrade military health care and the transition of wounded soldiers from the Pentagon’s health care system to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The legislation also included a 3.5% pay raise for our nation’s troops. [CQ Today, 7/24/07; Senate Floor Proceedings, 7/25/07]  

Democrats Passed Legislation Out of Committee Providing the Largest Increase for Veterans Affairs Funding in History. “House and Senate appropriators are both confidently moving forward with their proposals to give the Veterans Affairs Department its largest-ever budget increase to address the increasing health care needs of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House passed its version of the fiscal 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill (HR 2642) June 15 by a vote of 409-2. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved, 28-1, its draft version on June 14.” [CQ Today, 6/15/07]

Iraq Supplemental Appropriations Bill Included Additional $1.8 Billion for Veterans’ Health Care. “The House and Senate approved the $120 billion package yesterday. The president had requested $103 billion, but Congress added additional spending requirements to increase veterans’ health care programs by $1.8 billion, military construction and realignment by almost $5 billion, and homeland security by more than $1 billion.” [VFW Press Release, 5/25/07]

ADMINISTRATION FAILED ON BENEFIT CLAIMS

VA’s Claims Backlog is About 600,000.  “[VA] Had a claims backlog of roughly 600,000.”  [AP, 3/13/07]

Takes VA Between 127 to 177 Days, or Four to Five Months to Process Benefit Claims. “Took between 127 to 177 days to process an initial claim and an average of 657 days to process an appeal, resulting in significant hardship to veterans. In contrast, the private sector industry takes about 89.5 days to process a claim.”  [AP, 3/13/07]

Administration Shelved a Program to Ensure Seriously Wounded Vets Aren’t Lost in the Bureaucracy.  “A proposal to keep seriously wounded vets from falling through the cracks of the bureaucracy was shelved in 2005 when Jim Nicholson took over as the secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, according to the former VA employee who was responsible for tracking war casualties.” [ABC, 3/7/07]

ADMINISTRATION HAS FAILED VETERANS ON HOUSING

500 to 1000 Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are Homeless.  “But young warriors just back from the Mideast—estimated around 500 to 1,000—are beginning to struggle with homelessness too.”  [Newsweek, 3/21/07]

ADMINISTRATION FAILED TO PROVIDE SANITARY, CLEAN FACILITIES FOR INJURED TROOPS AND VETERANS

Rooms in D.C. Veterans Home “Spattered with Blood, Urine, and Feces.”  “Reports of a rising death rate and rooms spattered with blood, urine and feces at the Armed Forces Retirement Home prompted the Pentagon yesterday to begin investigating conditions at the veterans facility in Northwest Washington.” [Washington Post, 3/22/07]

Review Finds Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers in Bad Shape – Beset with Mold, Leaky Roofs and Rodents. “The Veterans Affairs’ vast network of 1,400 health clinics and hospitals is beset by maintenance problems such as mold, leaking roofs and even a colony of bats, an internal review says. The investigation, ordered two weeks ago by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, is the first major review of the facilities conducted since the disclosure of squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.”  [AP, 3/21/07]

ADMINISTRATION DISCLOSED PERSONAL DATA AND FAILED TO BUDGET ADEQUATELY

VA Disclosed Personal Information of Vets and Had a $1 Billion Budget Shortfall. Other trials included the theft last summer of a VA laptop computer and external hard drive containing personal information of 26.5 million veterans, and a $1 billion budget shortfall in 2005 that prompted Nicholson to go to Capitol Hill to ask for more money.” [Washington Post, 7/18/07]

ANOTHER REPORT, BUT WILL PRESIDENT BUSH LISTEN?… 

…PRESIDENT BUSH HAS FAILED TO IMPLEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS OF PAST COMMISSIONS

President Bush Said There Would Be a Quick Response to Any Problems Found by the Dole-Shalala Commission. “Any report of medical neglect will be taken seriously by this administration, I’m confident by the Congress, and we will address problems quickly. I’ve asked two of America’s fine public servants, Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala, to chair a commission that will analyze our health care both at the Defense Department and at the Veterans Department, to ensure that not only our soldiers but their families have got complete confidence in the government’s upholding its responsibility to treat those who have been wounded… And I’m confident that this commission will bring forth the truth. And as I assured the chairmen, I am confident that there will be a quick response to any problems that you may find.” [Remarks by President Bush, 3/7/07]

  • White House Said President Bush Would Not Act Quickly on Dole-Shalala Recommendations. “White House press secretary Tony Snow said that Bush would not be acting immediately on any of the recommendations.” [Associated Press, 7/25/07]

President Bush and the Republican Congress Failed to Implement Many 9/11 Commission Recommendations. “The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation yesterday to implement many of the remaining reforms suggested by the Sept. 11 commission, answering its three-year-old call for better emergency communications; more money for cities at high risk of terrorist attacks; and tighter security for air cargo, ports, chemical plants and rail systems.” [Washington Post, 3/14/07]

Bush Ignored Main Recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. “Panetta, one of the Democrats on the commission and President Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff, says Hadley began by listing those recommendations Bush had chosen to incorporate into his plan. Most were minor, according to Panetta. ‘I interrupted him and said that while we made 79 recommendations, three were the heart and soul of the report,’ Panetta told NEWSWEEK, citing the drawdown of U.S. troops by next year, the need to penalize the Iraqi government if benchmarks were not met and the call for diplomacy with Iran and Syria. Hadley’s response—the three were not part of the Bush plan—left Panetta feeling hoodwinked. ‘Mainly I’m offended by the way they created the impression they gave it consideration but really didn’t.’ (A National Security Council official confirmed the exchange.)” [Newsweek, 1/29/07]

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