By Nancy Pelosi
One of the most important pledges the military makes in combat is to never leave a service member behind on the battlefield.
In the New Direction Congress, we believe that we must leave no veteran or military family member behind.
Working with America's veterans and military family organizations, Congress recently has passed several critical initiatives to benefit our nation's heroes, past and present, and the military families who support them in service.
At the beginning of the 111th Congress, veterans groups began advocating in earnest for funding three key Veterans Affairs Department initiatives in advance of the start of each fiscal year. Otherwise known as “advanced appropriations,” this will provide VA with ample time to plan the most efficient and effective health care delivery system to an increasing number of veterans with ever more complex medical conditions. Last month, the House authorized this budget plan by an overwhelming majority.
The House also recently passed a bill recognizing the health care difficulties faced by women veterans. The Women Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, authored by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., calls on VA to study barriers to women veterans who seek health care, improve the status of medical care for newborn children of women veterans, and enhance sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment programs for women. This legislation will expand and improve VA health care services for the 1.8 million women who have bravely served.
For our troops and their families serving at home and abroad, Congress recently has dramatically increased critical support services. Recently passed legislation will provide 185,000 service members with $500 stipends for every month their enlistments were involuntarily extended under stop-loss orders.
It also gives our service members a 3.4 percent pay raise and funds construction of nine wounded warrior support complexes and 25 child care centers.
Earlier this year, I heard directly from military spouses who felt forgotten amid the chaos of war. By directing critical funding to these initiatives, by passing a resolution recognizing 2009 as the “Year of the Military Family” and by bringing their stories to the forefront of the public debate, I believe we are beginning to address this real concern.
Finally, under the leadership of Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, the House passed the fiscal 2010 military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill, which included record funding levels for Defense Department facilities and VA health care services, including $4.6 billion for mental health and $3.2 billion for programs aimed at caring for homeless vets.
In addition, this bill will allow VA to hire 1,200 claims processors, bringing the total of new hires to 8,300 since January 2007. We have heard countless times from veterans across the country that the slow pace of claims processing frustrates VA's mission to provide timely quality health care. With passage of this bill, Congress has provided a 58 percent increase in funding for veterans health care and benefits since January 2007.
Congress has built a significant record of accomplishments for veterans and military families. But our work is far from over, and I intend to close the 111th session of Congress with an even more impressive list of accomplishments.