Murkowski Lauds Passage of Omnibus Veterans Health Care Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today announced that the Senate has approved legislation that would provide monthly stipends to family members who care for seriously injured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflict in their home.

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009 includes provisions from three bills cosponsored by Murkowski: the Caregiver and Veterans Health Services Act of 2009; the Women’s Health Care Improvement Act of 2009, intended to modernize VA healthcare delivery services to women veterans, and the HONOR Act of 2009, to improve the delivery of behavioral health services through the VA to service members and veterans.

Murkowski was an original cosponsor of the Women’s Health Care Improvement Act when it was first introduced by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Washington and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas in 2008. The omnibus bill would require that the VA present to Congress a plan within 18 months to comprehensively improve healthcare services to women veterans with an emphasis on the behavioral health needs of women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would also require an independent study of the behavioral health challenges which may be faced by women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill would establish a pilot program to reimburse women veterans for the cost of child care while they are receiving health care services at the VA and it would require training and certification of counselors who work with victims of military sexual trauma. The bill would expand the maternity care available to women veterans who give birth at a VA facility.

“For decades the VA has adhered to a one size fits all mentality, telling veterans that they must accept what the VA offers, where the VA offers it,” said Murkowski. “The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act turns this method of operating on its head by providing clear direction that the VA must change its ways to meet the unique needs of our women, Native and rural veterans. This bill is a step in the right direction.”

The bill would allow active duty service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan to obtain behavioral health counseling from Vet Centers operated by the VA, rather than at military medical facilities. The provision is intended to address concerns by some active duty service members that their careers could be affected by seeking behavioral health counseling on base.

In addition, the bill would expand pilot projects to deliver care to rural veterans through Community Health Centers and Indian health facilities. The bill includes a new $5 million grant program to encourage community organizations to counsel veterans on their earned benefits.

The bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 98-0, now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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