Thursday, October 30, 2008

comments from Chet Edwards Congressman from Tx17

October 30, 2008

Dear Friend:

As we reach the end of the 110th Congress, I wanted to reflect on the successes we have achieved for our nation's veterans and in particular for those in Central Texas.

I feel it is very important to serve those who have served our nation. When I worked for Congressman Tiger Teague, who was one of the most decorated veterans to ever serve in Congress, and he first urged me to run for Congress, he told me to always take care of our nation's veterans. I made that promise and have held to that commitment for all of my years in Congress.

Now, as the Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, I am able to write the bill that funds the entire Department of Veterans Affairs each year. I am very proud that in my first two years as Chairman, I was able to provide the largest funding increase for veterans' health care in the 77-year history of the VA. The $16.3 billion increase over the last two years is more than the previous 12 years combined.

In recognition of these increases, I was humbled to receive the national legislative awards from both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion this year, awards they give to only one Member of Congress or Senator each year.

This funding means real improvements for veterans:

More than 15,000 new medical services staff since the beginning of 2007, including 1,355 new doctors and 4,968 new nurses (2,000 doctors and 6,500 nurses once the Fiscal Year 2009 [FY09] funds are spent).
Establishment of 115 new Community Based Outpatient Centers (CBOCs) and 40 new Vet Centers since the beginning of 2007.
Focus on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury, requiring the VA to spend at least $2.9 billion in FY08 on specialty mental health care. In FY09, that minimum will be increased to $3.8 billion for specialty mental health.
Focusing serious attention on the 400,000 claims backlog by hiring 3,100 additional claims processors, with 2,000 more planned for FY09 for a total of 5,100 new claims processors in 2 years.
Supporting our rural veterans who live far from VA facilities by dramatically increasing the gas reimbursement from 11 cents to 28.5 cents/mile. In FY09, this will go up to 41.5 cents/mile. (Before last year, the last increase in reimbursements was in 1979, when gas cost 90 cents/gallon.)
Re-opening the doors of the VA to those non-service connected (Priority 8) veterans that had been barred from enrolling. The FY09 bill directs the VA to begin letting more veterans into the system -- prioritizing those with lower incomes.
240% increase in non-recurring maintenance at VA facilities since January 2007 to prevent a Walter Reed-like tragedy from occurring there.

I have worked with the VA to ensure $49 million of the construction funds will be dedicated to important improvements on the Waco VA campus, and secured $7.3 million over the last four years for a Waco VA - Fort Hood research project into PTSD. Since January 2007, 205 new employees have been hired at the Waco VA Medical Center, including 20 nurses and 4 physicians. The Waco VA Regional Office has hired 123 new employees since January 2007.

I am looking forward to the groundbreaking of a new, modern VA clinic in Tarrant County this fall, with plans to open its doors in Spring 2010. While this facility is not in my district, it will serve veterans in Johnson, Hood, and Somervell Counties and I strongly support the project.

Finally, I am very proud that this Congress passed the 21st Century GI Bill, roughly doubling education benefits for the newest generation of veterans and offering them education benefits that are comparable to the benefits that were provided to veterans after World War II. This is a historic increase in benefits which not only offers appropriate thanks to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, but by ensuring the opportunity for a good education, it makes an important investment in tomorrow's economy.


Chet Edwards
U.S. Representative
District 17

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