On September 12, 2012, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing to mark-up legislation that had been previously considered by the Committee. Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-WA) had sponsored several bills to be voted on while Ranking Minority Member Richard Burr (R-NC) had some input on the legislation, but opposed many of the issues being considered.
Among the bills passed on to the full Senate was S. 2259, the “Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment act of 2012,” sponsored by Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). Similar legislation has already been approved in the House. The increase in compensation is tied to the rate of increase for Social Security benefits, which will not be publicized until October.
Paralyzed Veterans of America was pleased to see the Committee consider S. 3313, the “Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012.” Paralyzed Veterans submitted a statement for the record in favor of this legislation for a hearing held by the Senate VA Committee in June. Of most importance to Paralyzed Veterans in this legislation are the provisions that would provide fertility counseling and treatment (specifically in vitro fertilization), as well as other reproductive services, to veterans who have experienced a catastrophic injury that affects their reproductive organs. One of the most devastating results of spinal cord injury or dysfunction for many individuals is the loss of the ability to have children and raise a family. Paralyzed Veterans has long sought inclusion of reproductive services in the spectrum of health care benefits provided by the VA.
The Committee also approved S. 3340, the “Mental Health ACCESS Act.” Paralyzed Veterans supports this legislation as well. The approved bill would improve and enhance the programs and activities of the VA regarding suicide prevention and resilience, and behavioral health disorders for veterans and service members.
While the VA has made tremendous strides in the quality of care and variety of services provided to veterans in the area of mental health, Paralyzed Veterans believes that issues involving access to mental health care continue to exist and more must be done to make certain that all veterans receive timely and effective services. Under the proposed bill, the VA is required to conduct a comprehensive assessment of VA mental health care services with particular attention to the areas of timeliness of care, mental health staffing, and the availability and furnishing of evidence-based therapies. Paralyzed Veterans believes that a comprehensive assessment of VA mental health services is much needed, and we also support the requirement to have the VA develop and implement guidelines for the staffing of general and specialty mental health care services, including community-based outpatient clinics. Such staffing guidance is especially important in light of VA’s recent announcement to hire additional mental health professionals.
One of the most significant provisions of the bill is the proposal to expand eligibility for readjustment counseling and related mental health services to certain members of the Armed Forces, and their family members, with counseling services through VA Vet Centers. Additionally, the draft legislation gives the VA Secretary the authority to furnish mental health care through facilities other than Vet Centers to immediate family members of service members deployed in connection with a contingency operation. Again, Paralyzed Veterans supports and understands the intended purpose of this provision, however, should the VA provide the prescribed services, both VA and Congress must work to ensure that adequate resources are made available to meet the new demand.
With this session of Congress ending soon, and with the long recess for the election in November, the prospects for final passage of these bills remain uncertain. However, these measures will be moved to the Senate floor for consideration, but they will likely not be voted on (if at all) before the “lame duck” session. We will continue to update Paralyzed Veterans and its members about the progress of consideration of these bills. In the meantime, if there are any questions about these bills in particular, please contact the National Legislative staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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