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House OKs upgrade in care of veterans

By Sean Lengell THE WASHINGTON TIMES May 24, 2007

The House approved legislation yesterday to upgrade and expand the nation's network of health care and benefit outreach centers for military veterans.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina Democrat, was one of seven veteran-related bills that the House approved yesterday to provide millions more dollars in benefits.

"The 110th Congress is delivering on our promise for a new direction for America. Nowhere is that more important than the treatment of our troops and our veterans," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

Mr. McIntyre's bill, which passed unanimously with 421 votes, authorizes $25 million in grants annually through 2009 to state agencies for veterans outreach programs. The bill is designed to improve care in areas with large concentrations of veterans, or areas experiencing recent and expected growth in veteran populations.

The bill "will help our veterans cut through the bureaucratic red tape," Mr. McIntyre said. "As we approach Memorial Day, there can be no greater tribute to our veterans than ensuring that they receive the benefits they need and deserve."

The House also unanimously passed legislation to improve the treatment of veterans with traumatic brain injuries. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael H. Michaud, Maine Democrat, would establish a system to screen veterans for symptoms of traumatic brain injury and develop a program of long-term care and rehabilitation.

The bill also would establish centers for research and education on traumatic brain injury, and a pilot program of mobile centers to provide mental health and counseling services to veterans in rural areas.

The House also passed legislation extending the eligibility period for veterans of all combat exercises since the Persian Gulf War, as well as future combat activities, from two years to five years after their discharge or release.

Other legislation approved by the House would expand veteran eligibility requirements for vocational rehabilitation benefits, improve chiropractic care at Veterans Affairs facilities and create a national veterans cemetery in southern Colorado.

"Although we're debating this war ferociously on the House floor ... all the Republicans and Democrats are united in saying that every young man and woman who returns from this war is going to get all the care, the love, the honor and the dignity that a grateful nation can bestow," said Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat and chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

"We are not going to confuse the war with the warrior."

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