House Passes Four Bills Aimed at Helping Veterans

Associated Press
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The House took steps yesterday 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 measure, one of four veterans bills the House passed on voice votes, requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide outreach and mental health services to those who served in either campaign. The VA secretary is also directed to contract with community mental health centers in areas his agency does not adequately serve.

VA reported in April that one-third of veterans of the two wars have sought VA health care since fiscal 2002, and that mental disorders made up 37 percent of possible diagnoses among recent battlefield veterans.

Of 84,000 patients who received a diagnosis of possible mental disorder, it said, almost half were provisionally diagnosed with PTSD.

That number could be low, said Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.).

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael H. Michaud (D-Maine), also 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 low-income veterans.

A second bill passed by the House 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 denied the benefits given most veterans after the war.

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