Congressman Dingell answered the call to join the U.S. Army during World War II and is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). He understands the importance of keeping our promises to those who have served to protect our nation from foreign threats. For too many years, our returning soldiers were getting inadequate services from our government. He has been an outspoken champion for increased funding and benefits, and especially during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has fought to ensure veterans receive everything they were promised when they entered the service. Because of his work, the veterans’ hospital in Detroit is named the “John D. Dingell VA Medical Center.”
The 111th Congress and President Obama’s New Direction for Our Veterans
The 111th Congress has supported America’s veterans with a budget worthy of their service and sacrifice. In fact, since 2007, the year Democrats regained the majority in Congress, veterans have benefited from historic increases in funding for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) and a new understanding of the issues facing soldiers returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
In his budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, President Obama provided a path to restoring and revitalizing the services provided to veterans by adding $14.5 billion above FY 2009. During the past three years, the budget has repeatedly exceeded the funding requests of the VA Independent Budget. During that time, Congress has provided a 55 percent increase for VA medical care funding, adding $18.7 billion to the VA budget baseline.
For the first time in VA history, Congress authorized advance appropriations of the VA health care budget. That means the VA will be better able to plan for its future needs. President Obama’s budget proposal for FY 2011 provides an advance spending plan for FY 2012, proposing a 5 percent funding increase for VA medical care.
In addition, the stimulus package enacted last February provided a $1.4 billion increase for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs for maintenance at VA medical facilities, construction of veterans’ extended care facilities, and veteran cemetery repairs. The bill also provided economic stimulus payments of $250 to disabled veterans receiving VA compensation or pension.
Veterans’ Mental Health
OIF and OEF veterans are suffering in high numbers from cognitive impairments and mental health conditions, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and major depression. When they go untreated, these invisible wounds have detrimental effects on our soldiers, leading to problems within their families, difficulties finding and retaining employment, violent behavior, and possibly suicide. It is imperative that soldiers feel comfortable seeking and receiving treatment, and have access to the proper services.
On February 17, 2010, the Congressman and some of his colleagues wrote to the U.S. Secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Defense, Eric Shinseki and Robert Gates, respectively, urging that the detection and treatment of TBI be considered a top priority. The letter also requested a public report detailing these Departments’ use of the Military Acute Concussion Evaluation (MACE), out of concern that many serious head injuries were slipping through the cracks. You can read the letter here.
Further, it is essential that there is coordination of care between the Department of Defense and the VA. That is why Congressman Dingell is a cosponsor of H.R. 1308, the Veterans Mental Health Screening and Assessment Act, which mandates one to one, confidential screenings for all service members completing deployment with a licensed mental health professional. This Act will also require the Department of Defense and the VA to share information about mental health screenings in an effort to better understand and address the rising rate of soldier suicides.
GI Bill for the 21st Century
The new GI Bill for the 21st Century took effect August 1, 2009 to restore the promise of a full, four-year college education for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan; veterans of the two wars can sign up now. The Supplemental Appropriations Act, also signed into law, allows the extension of the 21st Century GI Bill of Rights college education benefits to children of members of the armed forces who die while on active duty.
Click here for detailed information on the GI Bill for the 21st Century.
The FY 2009 Supplemental Appropriations Act provides over 185,000 service members who have had their enlistments involuntarily extended since September 11, 2001 with $500 per month for every month they were held under stop-loss orders.
Work for Our Veterans Continues
Congressman Dingell takes pride in working hard for our veterans and he understands that as the U.S. is engaged in two wars overseas, constant attention must be paid to providing quality health care and benefits once our service members transition to civilian life. The Congressman recognizes the need for continued mental health services, employment opportunities, and educational benefits.
The House of Representatives has taken further action to pass several pieces of priority legislation for our veterans. With Congressman Dingell’s support, the House sent several bills on for Senate consideration fighting veteran homelessness (H.R. 4810); protecting our veterans from home foreclosure (H.R. 3976); and significantly expanding their health care services (H.R. 1211, 3155, 3219).
You can count on the Congressman to continue fighting for our veterans during the next Congress. For more information on what the House of Representatives is doing for our veterans, visit the House Committee on Veterans Affairs website.
The following bills have recently been passed by both Chambers and signed into public law by President Obama:
H.R. 1388 – Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act (signed 4/21/09) - This Act encourages a renewed spirit of national service and community volunteerism by establishing a Veterans Corp program designed to help veterans meet the needs of their fellow service members. This volunteer program serves the needs of veterans and members of the Armed Forces, and creates opportunities for veterans to continue serving their country through education, mentoring, and job training for fellow veterans.
S. 1963 – Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 (signed 5/5/10) – This legislation dramatically expands the federal health services offered to our veterans. Aid has been given to returning women veterans, veterans living in rural areas, those veterans suffering from catastrophic disabilities, and the caregivers who support our veterans. You can read Congressman Dingell’s statement for the record here.