01.17.08

At Cranston VFW Post, Whitehouse Shares Strong Support for Veterans

New Congress Made Progress, But There's Still More to Do, Senator Says

Cranston, R.I. - As he prepares to return to Washington for the start of a new session of Congress, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) met with Rhode Island veterans to discuss both progress made last year and the work still to be done, particularly to support service members returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We have only begun to repay America's veterans the debt we owe them," Whitehouse said. "I was proud to stand with Jack Reed to support more funding for health care, for research into post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, and for much-needed repairs to an overburdened claims processing system. We will keep fighting to honor the service, and sacrifice, of our veterans."

At a lunch discussion at the Nelson-Mack-Narragansett VFW Post in Cranston today, Whitehouse shared news on Congress's work on veterans' issues, and heard from local veterans about their concerns in the coming year.

A vocal supporter of veterans during his first year in the Senate, Whitehouse said in a speech on the Senate floor in March: "When we ask ordinary men and women to do the extraordinary, and stand up and serve in harm's way, we know we can never fully repay what they and their families have given us. But we can surely pledge to them that we will give them what they need in the field, and that when their service has ended, we will care for them adequately."

Congress Made Significant Progress on Veterans' Priorities in 2007

$6.6 Billion Increase for Veterans' Programs: Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations legislation (P.L. 110-161) passed by Congress and signed into law in December included a significant funding increase for veterans' initiatives - $6.6 billion more than in Fiscal Year 2007 and $3.7 more than President Bush requested. The appropriations bill funds nearly 100 percent of the Independent Budget, an annual funding proposal authored by AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Paralyzed Veterans of America.

More Support for Veterans' Health Care: The FY08 appropriations bill fully funds veterans' medical care, VA hospitals, and medical research; and allows the VA to increase funding for combat-related injuries such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), signal wounds of the Iraq war. Whitehouse cosponsored the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act, which requires a comprehensive policy to provide for the care of service members with serious injuries or illnesses; improve the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of service members with TBI and PTSD; and address deficiencies that contributed to the crisis at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Wounded Warriors Act passed as an amendment to the FY08 Defense Department spending authorization bill (H.R. 1585).

Investigating Administrative Separations Based on Personality Disorder Diagnosis: H.R. 1585 also included another Whitehouse-supported measure to require a report by the Secretary of Defense on all cases in which active-duty or Reserve members who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan received an administrative separation from the Armed Forces on the basis of a personality disorder (S. 1817).

Lifting Prohibitions on Concurrent Receipt: H.R. 1585, which authorized Defense Department spending for 2008, permitted concurrent receipt as of December 31, 2004 for veterans rated 100% disabled. The bill also provided for payment of special compensation, equal to the amount of retired pay forfeited because of the prohibition against concurrent receipt, for service members medically retired for a combat-related disability. While President Bush has vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act over an issue unrelated to veterans, it is expected that the administration will work with Congress to resolve the matter in coming weeks.

Addressing the "Widow's Tax:" H.R. 1585 also took steps to address the "widow's tax," authorizing a monthly allowance for surviving or former spouses of deceased service members whose DOD Survivor Benefit Plan is offset as a result of their VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

Preventing Suicide by Veterans: Whitehouse cosponsored legislation to strengthen veterans' suicide prevention initiatives, the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act (S.479), which was signed into law in November.

Whitehouse acknowledged that much remained to be done to address the needs of veterans and their families, especially those returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a cosponsor of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 (S.22), legislation introduced by Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.) that would give new veterans the same educational benefits as were provided after World War II. These benefits would include tuition, room and board, and a stipend for living expenses.

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