Senate Passes Package to Strengthen Health Care for Veterans

Washington, DC –
The U.S. Senate passed an omnibus
bill Thursday that bolsters health care for veterans on several fronts. 
The legislation includes four bills co-sponsored by Oregon’s Senator Jeff
Merkley that will provide benefits to caregivers of severely injured veterans,
improve care for female veterans, assist homeless veterans, and support
veterans living in rural areas.

“For the American heroes who have served overseas, the
transition back to civilian life is not an easy one.  And it’s even more
difficult for those who have been injured while serving,” Merkley said. 
“With this bill, we’re going to bolster the care we give to our veterans and
provide additional assistance to groups of veterans who have been long

The provisions pulled from bills co-sponsored by Senator
Merkley assist veterans by:

Providing for Family Caregivers

  • Fulfills VA’s obligation
    to care for the nation’s wounded veterans by providing their caregivers
    with counseling, support and a living stipend
  • Provides health care to
    the family caregivers of injured veterans
  • Requires independent
    oversight of the caregiver program

Expanding Health Care Services for Women Veterans

  • Requires
    VA to report to Congress on its comprehensive assessment of VA services
    and programs for women veterans and submit a plan on how it will address
    any shortfalls
  • Requires
    VA to report on the number of VA medical centers employing full-time women
    veterans’ program managers
  • Authorizes
    VA to provide health care to a newborn child of qualifying women veterans
    for 7 days after the birth of the child
  • Requires
    VA to train its mental health professionals in the treatment of military
    sexual trauma
  • Mandates
    that VA implement pilot programs to provide child care to women veterans
    who require medical care, and to provide readjustment services to women

Reaching Out to Rural Veterans

  • Expands VA’s authority
    to provide recruitment and retention incentives so that VA can recruit
    high quality health care providers
  • Increases oversight of
    care purchased in the community by mandating financial incentives for
    providers who maintain high quality standards
  • Expands VA’s
    telemedicine program, and its ability to collaborate with the Indian
    Health Service and community organizations to provide medical services,
    including mental health care, in rural communities

Programs to Enhance Outreach for Homeless Veterans

  • Authorizes
    VA to carry out three pilot programs which provide grants to public and
    nonprofit organizations for the following purposes:

    • To coordinate supportive services at the local level
      for certain formerly homeless veterans
    • To provide outreach to low income and elderly veterans
      and their spouses who reside in rural areas