(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - By a vote of 94-0, the U.S. Senate today agreed upon landmark legislation to improve care for wounded troops and veterans when they return home from battle. The Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act was attached to the FY2008 Department of Defense Authorization bill, which is expected to pass the Senate in the coming days.
Senator Patty Murray, a key architect of the bill, said:
"I’m proud today that the Senate stood up to honor and support those who sacrifice for our flag and for our freedom. The Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act is a major step toward finally providing the comfort and care our troops and veterans have earned.
"Our men and women in uniform have answered the President’s call to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without hesitation or complaint, they have left loved ones for years and put their lives on the line.
"Unfortunately, from the shameful conditions at Walter Reed and at VA facilities around the country, to a lack of PTSD counselors and a benefit claims backlog of months and sometimes years, it is clear the Administration has failed to provide the care our heroes deserve.
"It is far past time to bring justice, dignity and most of all – commitment – to our government's promise to care for all of our wounded warriors.
"After years of ignoring our veterans as a cost of this war, I am proud to say that in just a few short months – under our new direction in Congress - we have made real progress for our troops and veterans.
"This is just the latest – but perhaps most important – action we have taken to do right by our heroes.
"The Wounded Warrior bill provides real solutions that will meet the needs of our troops and veterans from the battlefield to the VA and everywhere in between. From inexcusably long waits for basic care and claims, to squalid living conditions, to daunting mazes of paperwork for the simplest things, our heroes deserve better.
"Today, too many servicemembers are falling through the cracks and not getting the support they deserve. At the end of the day, our strength and security comes down to people – people doing a job our country asks them to do for the ideals that our nation represents – and we need to keep our promise to them. This bill is a major step in that direction."
The Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act:
- Requires the Department of Defense and VA to work together to develop a comprehensive plan to prevent, treat and diagnose TBI and PTSD.
- Directs the two agencies to develop and implement a joint electronic health record so that critical medical records are not lost as our wounded troops move from battlefield doctors to medical holds and on to the VA.
- Requires the military to use VA standards for rating disabilities, only allowing deviation from VA standards when it will result in a higher disability rating for the servicemember.
- Requires the military to adopt the VA presumption that a disease or injury is service-connected when our heroes – who were healthy prior to service - have spent 6 months or more in active duty
The bill also addresses:
- substandard facilities
- lack of seamless transition from DOD to the VA
- inadequacy of severance pay
- and medical care for caregivers not eligible for TRICARE.