WASHINGTON (AP) – The House took steps Monday to improve counseling and care for the tens of thousands of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder.
The bill, one of four veterans bills passed by the House, requires the Veterans Affairs Department to provide outreach and mental health services to veterans of the two campaigns. The VA secretary is also directed to contract with community mental health centers in areas not adequately served by the VA.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, also allows the VA secretary to make grants to conduct therapeutic workshops in such areas as music and the arts.
The VA in April reported that one-third of veterans of the two wars have sought VA health care since fiscal 2002, and that mental disorders comprised 37 percent of possible diagnoses among recent battlefield veterans.
It said that of 84,000 patients that received a diagnosis of possible mental disorder, almost half were provisionally diagnosed with PTSD.
That number could be low, said Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif.
The bill provides grants for rural veterans service organizations to help transport veterans in remote areas, makes permanent a program to treat participants in Defense Department chemical and biological testing, expands counseling services for veterans emerging from prison who are at risk of homelessness, and provides housing assistance to very low-income veterans.
A second bill waives co-payment for veterans receiving hospice care at home or at acute-care facilities, and another assures that disabled veterans living temporarily with a family member are eligible for adaptive housing assistance.
The fourth bill extends pension benefits to World War II veterans of the U.S. Merchant Marine who were deprived of the benefits given most veterans after the war.
Merchant Marine veterans were ineligible for the GI Bill and other housing and health benefits, and it wasn’t until 1988 that they received veterans status. The bill authorizes $485 million over five years to pay $1,000 a month to Merchant Marine veterans and surviving spouses.
According to one VA estimate, about 13,000 surviving mariners and 6,000 spouses would qualify for the benefit.
All four bills passed by voice vote and now go to the Senate.
The bills are H.R. 23 (Merchant Marines), H.R. 1315 (disabled housing), H.R. 2874 (health care improvement) and H.R. 2624 (hospice care).
On the Net: