U.S. Sen. Baldwin: Bipartisan omnibus supports Wisconsin veterans

CONTACT: press@baldwin.senate.gov
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin announced major victories for Wisconsin’s veterans in the bipartisan spending legislation that President Trump signed into law.

“This bipartisan legislation signed by the President includes many reforms that I worked for to improve services and care for our veterans. By working across party lines I was able to secure a significant increase in opioid treatment and prevention funding to support service members at the VA. This will provide full funding to strengthen oversight and accountability at the VA  and provide safer and more effective pain management services for our nation’s veterans,” said Senator Baldwin. “I am pleased that we are doing more to help homeless vets, improve health care services and invest in rebuilding VA hospitals. Our veterans and their families deserve solutions and this legislation delivers results.”

Funding for Opioid Drug Abuse Prevention

Senator Baldwin was able to secure a significant increase in opioid treatment and prevention funding to support service members at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill includes an additional $12 million for opioid treatment and prevention compared to last year, for a total of $385 million in FY18.

The bipartisan omnibus spending bill signed by the President includes more than $55 million to continue VA’s implementation of Senator Baldwin’s Jason Simcakoski Memorial and Promise Act, which was signed into law in 2016This new funding will help support the opioid safety initiatives and reforms outlined in “Jason’s Law.”

Increased Funding Opportunities to Help Homeless Veterans

In her role on the Appropriations Committee, Senator Baldwin has fought for funding to help reduce veteran homelessness in Wisconsin. The final omnibus includes $1.75 billion for veteran homelessness programs, including $340 million for the Supportive Services for Low Income Veterans Program; $543 million for the HUD/VASH program that assists veterans and their families find permanent housing; and $257 million for the Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program.

Protecting Veterans from Identity Theft

When the VA uses social security numbers as personal identifiers, veterans and their families are at an increased risk of fraud and identity theft that could threaten their financial and economic security. The bipartisan spending bill included Senator Baldwin’s legislation that would require the VA to stop using social security numbers. The bipartisan omnibus includes a requirement for the VA to begin phasing out the use of Social Security account numbers to identify individuals in all information systems used by the VA. The changes would be applied to veterans with new claims for benefits within five years, and for all other veterans already in VA systems within eight years.

Improving VA Women’s Health

Senator Baldwin has long supported reforms that would improve the quality of life for female veterans, including a stronger investment in women’s health. To better assist female veterans and increase their knowledge of the services and benefits to which they are entitled, the agreement provides $512 million for gender-specific health care.

Increase Funding for Mental Health Services

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Baldwin secured the full budget request for all VA mental health services and programs of more than $8.3 billion, with an additional $10 million provided for the Veterans Crisis Line, an additional $22 million above the request provided for the National Centers for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and an additional $10 million for the Clay Hunt pilot programs to help combat veteran suicide.

The law also directs the VA to renew its focus on improving access to mental health services for female veterans and to work to ensure that female veterans’ psychological needs are met.

Improving Resources to Identify and Help Veterans at Heightened Risk of Overmedication or Suicide

The final bipartisan legislation requires the VA to complete an assessment of the domiciliary program and address security gaps, including the programs ability to meet the needs of veterans who are at heightened risk for overdose or suicide.

Senator Baldwin advocated to include $500,000 for an overmedication study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that would assess the potential overmedication of veterans during fiscal years 2010 to 2017 connected to suicides, deaths, mental disorders and combat-related traumas.

At Senator Baldwin’s request, the law also urges the VA to improve stroke care, including by utilizing telestroke at VA medical centers that do not currently have around-the-clock neurological expertise available to veterans who suffer a stroke.

Enhanced Research for Illnesses Affecting Gulf War and Post-9/11 Veterans

Senator Baldwin worked to include report language in the omnibus recommending that the VA continue to conduct studies on the prevalence of Gulf War morbidity, and mortality in Persian Gulf War veterans and the development of effective treatments, preventions and cures for related illnesses. The final bill requires that the Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses restore regular reporting of health care and benefits utilized by Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans. 

Helping Veterans Avoid Bankruptcy and Financial Hardship

Senator Baldwin worked to include language that will require the VA to submit a report outlining the statutory and legislative authority needed to end the inclusion of VA and DoD disability benefits in the calculation of a debtor’s disposable income. Currently Social Security disability benefits for non-veterans are excluded from debtor’s disposable income and Senator Baldwin is working to fix this inequity.

Funding to Improve VA Burn Pit Registry

The final legislation provides $5 million for the purpose of implementing the recommendations included in National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s assessment to improve the VA open burn pit registry, which allows eligible veterans and service members to document their exposures and report health concerns through an online questionnaire.

Recognizing Hmong Veterans Who Served in Vietnam

The final legislation includes the bipartisan Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act that permits Hmong veterans who served in Vietnam and were naturalized in the U.S. in 2000 to be interred in VA national cemeteries. Wisconsin has one of the highest populations of Hmong people in the United States.

Rebuilding and Revitalizing Veterans’ Hospitals

The final legislation includes an additional $2 billion for the VA to address hospital maintenance and construction backlogs. Funding for non-recurring maintenance of existing VA hospitals and clinics will almost triple compared to last year, totaling $2.8 billion. Senator Baldwin worked to secure this funding to help reduce the more than $12 billion in code violations and deficiencies at VA facilities throughout the country.

An online version of this release is available here.

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