[StBernard] The Word from Washington - Honoring our Brave Veterans

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Tue Nov 13 21:58:33 EST 2007

Dear Westley,

Hello to all my friends in south Louisiana. This Veterans Day, I encourage
you to pause and honor the men and women who have risked their lives and
made difficult sacrifices to keep every American safe. It is also equally
important that we take the time to remember those servicemen and women who
are currently protecting us, both abroad and at home. If you are a veteran
or an active service member, I thank you for your service and pledge to
continue to fight for you in Washington.

Rep. Melancon meets with U.S. combat veteran and former Presidential
Nominee Bob Dole and WWII veterans from Louisiana to discuss issues
affecting veterans today.

This past year, I have been working in Congress to pass measures that will
improve healthcare for our veterans and provide them with the benefits they
earned and deserve. As I write this, Congress is very close to sending
the annual Veterans Affairs funding bill to the President for his signature.
The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies
Appropriations Act of 2008 (introduced as H.R. 2642, now H.R. 3043) includes
an additional $6.6 billion over the 2007 level in funding for the VA to
address the needs of new veterans and takes vital steps towards eliminating
current problems in veterans' healthcare. This record funding increase is
the largest in the 77-year history of the Veterans Affairs department.

The VA funding bill will provide veterans with better, more efficient
healthcare, and also focuses on the needs of veterans returning from Iraq
and Afghanistan. I am pleased the bill will:

Reduce the Backlog of Veterans' Benefit Claims. Significantly reduce the
400,000 claims backlog for veterans waiting for disability and other
benefits by adding more than 1,800 new claims processors.

Improve VA Health Facilities Maintenance. Provide for much-needed
maintenance of VA health care facilities (funding is $500 million above the
President's request) to prevent a Walter Reed-type scandal from occurring. A
recent VA report outlined 1,000 specific problems at VA health facilities
around the country, with a backlog of $5 billion in maintenance.

Better Treat PTSD and TBI. Increase funding within all the health accounts
for mental health, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain
Injury to ensure the poly-trauma centers and Centers of Excellence for
Mental Health and PTSD are fully operational. One-third of veterans
returning from Iraq and Afghanistan face mental health challenges, and up to
300,000 returning troops are expected to suffer from TBI.

Invest in Medical and Prosthetic Research. Invest 16 percent more for
medical and prosthetic research, instead of accepting cuts in the
President's budget.

Create a Toll-Free Hotline for Veterans. Develop and operate a toll-free
telephone and web-based hotline for veterans to report on deficiencies in VA
medical facilities and care.

Also this year, in response to recent revelations of the horrendous
conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital and other facilities, I supported a
bill to better help active service members transition to the VA system. The
Wounded Warrior Assistance Act, H.R. 1538, will improve outpatient care at
military healthcare facilities and cut bureaucratic red tape in order to
help patients and improve overall service for veterans.

I also supported increased screening and better treatment for veterans with
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), two
of the most serious medical conditions for veterans returning from Iraq and
Afghanistan today. I voted for the Traumatic Brain Injury/Rural Veterans
Outreach Act (H.R. 2199), which ensures that our veterans are properly
screened for Traumatic Brain Injury and receive the appropriate treatment.
The legislation also expands VA resources to provide rural communities with
"mobile vet centers" for mental health services and benefits outreach.

Because PTSD can take years to surface, we passed legislation to make
service members eligible for VA health insurance for five years after
leaving the armed services instead of two (H.R. 612).

To keep up with the increased cost of healthcare, I supported H.R. 1284
which increases the cost-of-living adjustment for veterans' disability
benefits. This bill will guarantee that benefits keep pace with inflation,
and our veterans will receive the financial support they need when they
return home.

Finally, in September, I had the privilege of meeting with another group of
Louisiana's veterans brought to Washington by Louisiana Honor Air, a group
dedicated to providing every WWII veteran in Louisiana the opportunity to
visit their WWII Memorial in DC. While meeting with these brave veterans, we
were also joined by WWII combat veteran and former Senator and Presidential
nominee Bob Dole, who thanked the veterans for their service.

As part of this memorable day, we visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at
Arlington National Cemetery, where our group presented a wreath to honor all
of the courageous men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our
country's freedom. I am grateful to Louisiana Honor Air and our veterans for
allowing me to share in this moving experience.

In closing, let me say again that serving as your representative in Congress
is a great privilege, and I will keep fighting every day for south
Louisiana's needs. Please don't hesitate to call my office in Washington, or
one of my four offices in Louisiana, if there is anything I can help you
with or if you want to share your opinion on upcoming issues in Congress. I
take your viewpoints very seriously and look forward to hearing from you.

Charlie Melancon
U.S. Representative, Third Congressional District of Louisiana

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