Burr Lauds Accomplishments For Veterans In Defense Authorization

Conference Report Includes Several Provisions For Veterans

Senator Richard Burr, the Ranking Member on the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, praised today's passage of the conference report to H.R. 1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008. The conference report contains a number of provisions that help veterans, including enhanced education benefits and expansion of health services for veterans with traumatic injuries and their families.

"The Defense Authorization Act touches on a number of important issues facing our nation's veterans, and I am pleased this report has passed," Burr said. "Our wounded warriors deserve the best care and treatment our nation can provide them, and this bill works in several ways to help make their lives better. I am especially pleased that the bill takes a measured step towards implementing the Dole-Shalala Commission's recommendation to streamline the disability evaluation process within the Defense Department. I hope we can build on this progress when the Congress reconvenes in January."

The conference report specifically provides enhancements to education benefits, primarily for members of the National Guard and Reserves who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It allows for them to receive maximum education benefits after three total years of active duty service and to participate in the "buy-up" program that can provide up to $5,400 more in benefits.

The report provides important improvements for veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI). It requires the VA to develop individualized rehabilitation and reintegration plans for all patients with TBI and requires the VA to develop a program of long-term care for post-acute TBI rehabilitation, whether that care is provided through VA or through private entities. It also requires the VA to conduct TBI research and establish a Traumatic Brain Injury Veterans Health Registry. It also provides an extension of eligibility to receive priority access to VA healthcare from two to five years following separation from the military for combat veterans serving in the War on Terror.

Wounded Warrior provisions in the report includes the requirement for DOD and VA to jointly develop a comprehensive policy on the care and transition of recovering veterans and requires both departments to standardize the medical evaluation board and physical evaluation board process. Both departments will continue to develop a coordinated electronic health record system and will create an interagency office to facilitate the new health records, which will allow for better communication between the departments when handling important health records.