Thursday, March 15, 2007

Menendez backs new veterans initiative


Veterans Navigator Act to help those in need navigate the VA Health Care System

WASHINGTON – Following personal visits to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center of East Orange and the outpatient medical facility at Ft. Dix , U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today introduced the Veterans Navigator Act of 2007 to ensure that those service members transitioning into the Veterans Affairs health care system have access to the medical care they need.

The introduction comes amid further reports of an overstrained veterans health system, unable to effectively care for returning troops. The bill would provide $25 million in federal grants over the next five years to create a pilot program that addresses the myriad problems service members face when transitioning from the Department of Defense to the VA health care systems.

“Our servicemen and –women risk their lives to defend our country and deserve no less than first-class medical care when they return home from battle,” said Menendez. “Instead they find a complicated and convoluted system that can leave many of our nation’s bravest stranded in a labyrinth of bureaucracy. Let’s be clear, we don’t make it overly-complicated for our servicemen and –women to enlist or commission, so we shouldn’t make it overly-complicated for them to receive the critical medical care and services they need.”

While the Veterans Navigator Act targets all veterans or soon-to-be veterans, the bill focuses particular attention on four underserved groups in the military community: seriously injured or wounded soldiers, female soldiers, those suffering from psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and members of the activated National Guard and Reserves.

The veteran navigators would not provide direct care or services to veterans, but instead would be required to conduct ongoing outreach to service members returning home. The navigators would have an extensive understanding of the relevant systems and programs available in the community, whether public or private, to serve the veterans’ needs.

“As I’ve said before, in speaking directly with the brave men and women who are currently processing through the system, I have received first-hand reports on where our process is failing. Some of the stories are downright appalling. If this is how a ‘grateful nation’ treats its wounded and disabled, I shudder to think what an ‘ungrateful nation’ would do. Our men and women in uniform – and retirees – deserve much better,” Menendez said.

Building upon existing programs run by Veterans Service Organizations and other experienced groups, the program will fund “navigators” to help service members as they transition between the Department of Defense and the VA. These grants will enable such organizations to expand existing programs in response to increased demand from soldiers entering veterans status after returning from Afghanistan and Iraq .

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