Senator Leahy believes in doing everything possible to honor our veterans.
With the end of the war in Iraq and continuing redeployment of our nation’s forces from Afghanistan, our country has an ever-increasing obligation to support its veterans. These brave men and women must have confidence that the country will honor their sacrifices when they return.
Recognizing their service not only means paying tribute on such holidays as Memorial Day and Veterans Day. It also means ensuring that our veterans in Vermont and across the country continue to benefit from affordable, high-quality health care and compensation, pension, education, and other benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Senator Leahy is a staunch advocate for improving health care for our nation's veterans. He works hard to ensure the VA health care system -- especially the facilities serving Vermont veterans--remains strong and effective.
Many of Vermont's 50,000 veterans access healthcare through the VA Medical Center at White River Junction or through one of its associated Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) in Burlington, Bennington, Rutland, Brattleboro, and Newport, as well as in both Littleton and Keene, NH. The White River Junction VA Medical Center is consistently ranked one of the nation's best. As the senior member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over veterans’ healthcare, Senator Leahy has worked to secure millions of dollars for the White River Junction VA Medical Center and CBOCs . This funding has allowed the hospital to make critical renovations, purchase new equipment, expand the surgical unit, open new CBOCs, and ensure the center's success and long-term viability.
Senator Leahy has also led the charge to increase the baseline budget of the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is based at White River. The VA reports that the most common combination of diagnoses found among returning combat soldiers is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), major depression, and cognitive impairments due to traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Senator Leahy has secured $3 million over the President’s request in the Senate Appropriations Committee-passed spending bill for 2014 and 2015 to support two projects of the National Center for PTSD. Half of the proposed funding will be dedicated to operating a PTSD brain bank – the first of its kind – to research the impact of stress and trauma on brain tissue. The other half will support the Rural Veterans with PTSD Outreach Program to assist the care of veterans whose distance from the VA Medical Center makes it more likely they will seek treatment in their local communities. Senator Leahy believes that it is critical that we take meaningful steps to understand PTSD and eliminate the stigma around mental health issues facing our nation's soldiers, and that these selfless individuals receive the care they need and have earned through their service regardless of where they live.
While funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has improved substantially in Vermont and around the country, more must be done to ensure the entire veterans delivery network remains strong. Since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002, more than 1.5 million veterans have left active duty, making them eligible for benefits and services provided by the VA.
The President has requested a $152.7 billion VA budget for 2014, a considerable increase over the 2013 budget request. The new budget continues reforms begun in 2010, including an increase in funding for veterans’ mental health programs and improving the management and timeliness of the VA's benefits and claims processing.
Senator Leahy supported legislation to fund the VA a year in advance, which allows the VA avoid budget uncertainty and do more long range planning.
Senator Leahy also believes in the expansion of veterans’ education benefits provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. He has closely monitored the implementation of the bill and has contacted the VA to determine what additional efforts can be made to diminish the backlog in requests made by deserving service members. He has also worked with the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and Vermont colleges to lessen the burden of educational expenses on Vermonters in uniform.
Senator Leahy also believes that it is unfair to ask our retired service members to pay more for their benefits. For roughly 16 years, the Pentagon kept TRICARE premiums level at a time when private health insurance out-of-pocket costs skyrocketed. In 2007, 2008, and 2009, the Department of Defense proposed TRICARE fee increases in its defense budget submissions. Three years in a row Senator Leahy strongly opposed those proposals, and three years in a row Congress prohibited the Pentagon from increasing premiums, deductibles, and co-payments. The Obama Administration also held the line on fees, deductibles, and copayments in 2010 and 2011. In the Senate Committee-passed fiscal year 2014 spending bill for the Department of Defense, TRICARE fee increases are prevented.