Casey Column: Veterans Omnibus Health Services Bill Expands Health Care Services for Veterans

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) authored a column on the Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 which became law on May 5, 2010.  This important law will improve the lives of veterans and their caregivers.  Full text of the column is below.

I have always believed this country must be grateful for the safe homecoming of every single man and woman who has served in harm’s way.  Our joy at their return must be reflected in our commitment to helping all those who have served, especially those who are coping with devastating physical and psychological injuries and illnesses as a result of their combat service, along with their families and those who care for them.

In an effort to provide needed support for caregivers and expand health care services for veterans, Congress passed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 which became law on May 5, 2010.  This important law will improve the lives of veterans and their caregivers.  

One of the key parts of this law is the provisions to improve outreach to and care for veterans living in rural communities.  This bill increases the Veterans Administration’s authority to provide incentives to recruit and retain high quality health care professionals.  Veterans will receive travel reimbursements for expenses they incur when undergoing care at facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Veterans Service Organizations will be eligible for grants for transporting veterans in highly rural areas.  This bill expands the Veterans Administration’s telehealth program and its ability to collaborate with the Indian Health Service and community organizations to help provide medical services, including mental health care, in rural communities.  Pennsylvania’s rural population is the third largest according to the 2000 census.  

The care we provide our veterans is vitally important, but so is the support we offer to those who care for our veterans.  Through this law, caregivers are provided with training, counseling, supportive services and a living stipend that will help them and improve the care our veterans receive.  Family caregivers of injured veterans are provided with health care under CHAMPVA.  

Women veterans will have access to expanded health care services under this new law.  The Veterans Administration is required to report to Congress on its comprehensive assessment of the barriers it encounters in providing health care to women veterans.  The Veterans Administration is authorized to provide care to a newborn child in certain cases for up to seven days after the birth.  Pilot programs to provide child care to women veterans receiving medical care and to provide readjustment services to women veterans are created under this bill.

Too often veterans encounter barriers when trying to access essential care.  This law removes barriers to emergency care and care for the catastrophically disabled.  Copayments for catastrophically disabled veterans are eliminated.  Veterans will also be reimbursed for emergency care they receive at non-Veterans Administration facilities.  

Mental health care is just as important as physical health care and this law recognizes that with two important changes.  First, it establishes and increases eligibility for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom service members to receive readjustment counseling.  Second, it requires the Veterans Administration to conduct a study on veteran suicides.  We must ensure our veterans have access to all the care they need.  

While traveling throughout the Commonwealth, I have had the privilege of sitting down for meetings with veterans and military families to hear firsthand about their concerns and needs.  Too often, I hear stories about disabled veterans in rural communities who depend on transportation provided by the county to get to the hospital at a time when gas prices are rising and local budgets are strained.  Many service members, reservists, and veterans find that they must travel all the way to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland to receive counseling and treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other combat-related illnesses.  There are fathers and mothers who have returned home and have access to counseling, but whose children need help coping with the stress of reintegrating a parent into their lives after a long absence.  We must strive to close these caps and this veterans health services law health us close those gaps.  I hope that Pennsylvania service members and veterans will continue to reach out to me and my office to let us know what they need and how we can help.