As the Veteran's Day Parade balloons made their way down 7th St. in down town Phoenix, they were forced to duck the floats under an electrical line and a stop light at the intersection of 7th and VA Med Center. As the crowds gathered around 10:00 am and watched excitedly as the different branches of the military, the different school marching bands, the ROTC, and even the Sheriff's commercialized campaign car took the route pre designed by the organizers and city officials. It almost seems surreal to recognize those men and women who lay down their lives every day for the last several decades rather then recognize the valiant efforts of our all volunteer Army on a more consistent basis.
After being led into 2 wars by an Administration that claimed to want to take care of those who served, yet looking at VA benefits offered up until recently, most Veterans and civilians would be appalled at the treatment of our brave young men and women. A recent study showed that according to Harvard Medical School, nearly one-and-a-half million veterans went without health insurance during 2008. Out of those uninsured veterans 2,266 were said to have died in large part, as a result of medical conditions that could have easily been prevented. Though the debate thickens every day for a revised health care plan that would cover more Americans in the civilian population, the idea of not covering those who served this country, is to most unthinkable.
Many might remember the stunning findings of neglect at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center ranging from the discovery of "black mold" to the disgusting findings of rampant mouse dropping, belly up cockroaches, and stained mattresses.
Some of the efforts to improve the quality an availability of care to our veterans by the Obama administration include keeping such campaign promises as better services for mental health care and cognitive injuries for veterans in rural areas. According to the Obama administration's proposed 2010 budget, his administration has approved the opening of over 3 dozen new hospitals in rural areas, preventing the amount of travel required for a veteran to receive care. According to a spokesman in the VA office, the federal government will open 39 new veterans centers by the end of 2009, bringing the national total to 271. Consideration of rural areas far from existing services will be included in an analysis to identify sites for new Vet Centers in 2010.
On Oct. 8, 2009, the House of Representatives voted to put the VA's health care programs on a two-year budget cycle - an effort to make sure the government gets money to the program on time. In recent years, Congress has been late in approving funds for veterans' health care. The Senate already approved the plan as part of the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009.
Under the new plan, appropriations for VA medical programs would be approved one year ahead of time. Specifically, the advance cash would be for medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities. While this money is only one part of the VA's budget, the effort signals Obama is taking steps toward fulfilling his promise of fully funding the department.
Another objective by this administration was to ensure that the bill was passed as a high priority bill saying "This is inexcusable. It's unacceptable. It's time for it to stop. With this legislation we're fundamentally reforming how we fund health care for our veterans. With advance appropriations, veterans' medical care will be funded a year in advance. For the VA, this means timely, sufficient and predictable funding from year to year. For VA hospitals and clinics, it means more time to budget, to recruit high-quality professionals, and to invest in new health care equipment. And most of all, for our veterans it will mean better access to the doctors and nurses and the medical care that they need: specialized care for our wounded warriors with post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, and the staffing to welcome back to the VA those half-million 'Priority 8' vets. In short, this is common-sense reform. It promotes accountability at the VA. It ensures oversight by Congress. It is fiscally responsible by not adding a dime to the deficit. And it ensures that veterans' health care will no longer be held hostage to the annual budget battles in Washington." The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009 provides a permanent solution to the yearly problem of Congress failing to pass a VA budget before the end of the fiscal year.
Other promises kept by this President regarding the young men and women that serve this country and their VA care are the successful Expansion of the number of centers of excellence for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), PTSD, vision impairment, prosthetics, spinal cord injury, aging, women's health and other specialized rehabilitative care.
There are currently over 400,000 claims pending within the Veterans Benefits Administration, and over 800,000 claims receipts are expected in 2008 alone. Obama will hire additional claims workers and convene our nation's leading veterans groups, employees, and managers to develop an updated training and management model that will ensure that VA benefit decisions are rated fairly and consistently, and stem from adequate training and accountability for each claims adjudicator.
As president, Obama will transform the paper benefit claims process to an electronic system that will be interoperable with the VA's health network as well as military records. This will reduce error rates, improve timeliness, and enhance the overall quality of the claims decisions.
Under the section of the budget plan for the Department of Veterans Affairs is a paragraph stating the Obama administration's commitment to expand the VA's "current services to homeless veterans through a collaborative pilot program with nonprofit organizations. This pilot will help maintain stable housing for veterans who are at risk of falling into homelessness while helping VA to continue providing them with supportive services. In a speech at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington on March 16, Obama said his budget plan "provides new help for homeless veterans, because those heroes have a home - it's the country they served, the United States of America. And until we reach a day when not a single veteran sleeps on our nation's streets, our work remains unfinished."
With the sacrifice we see on the nightly news and the bravery we witness as a nation, every time our veterans make it home, we can't help but say, it's about time.
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