On June 27, VetsFirst testified before the United States Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to offer ideas and opinions on pending legislation that will improve the independence and quality of life of thousands of veterans with disabilities nationwide.
Topics of the legislation included addressing women veterans’ health care needs; access to mental health care; changes to VA’s pension program; identifying the benefits of service dog training therapy; travel coverage to rehab facilities; and increasing voter registration.
Below are excerpts from VetsFirst’s testimony.
Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act of 2012 (S. 3313)
After a decade of war, many severely disabled veterans who have experienced trauma related to improvised explosive devices and other conditions of warfare may experience infertility. Unfortunately, the current services available from VA in many cases do not reflect the needs of these veterans and their families.
This legislation takes important steps toward assisting veterans, their spouses, and surrogates in holistically addressing infertility. VetsFirst supports the addition of fertility counseling and treatment, including treatment using assisted reproductive technology to the definition of medical services. We are also pleased that this legislation not only expands the definition of medical services to include these treatments, but also provides them to veterans’ spouses or surrogates. We are disappointed, however, that these services are not required for veterans who are not service connected.
VetsFirst also supports efforts in the legislation to improve access to VA services for women veterans. Women make up an increasing percentage of the veteran population. Consequently, VA must improve efforts to address the unique needs and concerns of women veterans. Otherwise, women may be hesitant to take advantage of their benefits.
Mental Health Access to Continued Care and Enhancement of Support Services (ACCESS) Act of 2012
After a decade of war, the number of veterans who need mental health services due to post-traumatic stress disorder and other wounds related to their service has greatly increased. Veterans from previous wars also continue to need mental health care services which allow them to be vital contributors to their communities and families.
Access to quality mental health care is critical in ensuring that veterans are able to successfully reintegrate into their communities. To ensure that access standards are being met, VA must develop comprehensive measures that accurately determine whether proper access to services is being provided. We appreciate the requirement in this legislation for VA to develop a measure of access to health care that will evaluate timeliness, satisfaction, capacity, and availability and furnishing of evidence-based therapies by VA.
Changes to VA’s Pension Program (S. 3270)
VA’s pension program provides benefits for veterans who are low-income and are either permanently and totally disabled, or age 65 and older, if they served during a period of war. These benefits are critical for veterans who have few other resources available to them. VetsFirst believes that these benefits must be protected to ensure that they are fully available when needed. As a result, we do not condone fraudulent efforts to benefit from the VA’s pension program. We also believe, however, that people should not have to impoverish themselves just to receive the services that they need whether in VA’s program or any other government benefits program.
We are concerned that the legislation does not exempt transfer of assets to special needs trusts. Any efforts to penalize transfer of assets under the VA’s pension program must provide for appropriate exemptions for transfers to special needs trusts similar to those available through other federal programs also based on financial need.
Pilot Program on Service Dog Training Therapy (S. 1838)
Service animals provide multi-faceted assistance to people with disabilities. Specifically, service animals promote community integration. VetsFirst supports efforts to ensure that properly trained service animals are available to veterans who can benefit from their assistance. This legislation provides a unique opportunity to benefit not only veterans seeking the assistance of a service dog but also provides veterans with post-deployment mental health concerns or post-traumatic stress disorder the opportunity to benefit from training these dogs. The dual nature of this approach has the potential to assist a wide range of veterans.
Changes to VA’s Beneficiary Travel Program (S. 1755)
Veterans who have spinal cord injuries or disorders, vision impairments, or double or multiple amputations require access to rehabilitation services that allow them to live as independently as possible with their disabilities. For those veterans who need these services but who are not eligible for travel benefits, the ability to pay for travel to these rehabilitation programs is very difficult. In addition, few of these services are available locally, particularly in rural areas.
VetsFirst strongly supports providing travel benefits for catastrophically disabled non-service connected veterans who need to travel to receive in-patient care at special disabilities rehabilitation programs. Every effort must be made to reduce barriers that limit access to these services. The long-term savings of ensuring that these veterans are able to maintain their health and function significantly outweighs the short-term costs associated with this legislation.
Veteran Voting Support Act of 2011 (S. 1264)
Exercising the right to vote is a fundamental aspect of American citizenship. For servicemembers and veterans who have served as the defenders of our nation’s freedoms, the opportunity to register to vote and exercise that right is particularly meaningful.
The Veteran Voting Support Act seeks to increase access to voter registration opportunities by requiring VA to provide voter registration applications and assistance to veterans during specified interactions with VA. Although we support the efforts of this legislation to ensure that veterans have increased opportunities to register to vote, we are concerned by the lack of a meaningful enforcement mechanism and protections for registrants that are available through the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).