WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a Senior Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the President's signing of important legislation that will bring recognition and improved mental health care to veterans. On Saturday, September 27th, the Senate passed two legislative measures that were cosponsored by Senator Inhofe, S. 2162, The Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008, and S. Res. 692, "National Veterans Awareness Week." Another important measure, included within the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, was a provision sponsored by Senator Inhofe that allows service members to salute during the National Anthem. All three measures gained bipartisan support and passed the Senate by unanimous consent. President Bush signed the Veteran's Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008 on October 10th and the National Defense Authorization Act yesterday, October 14, 2008.
"I am proud that several measures I sponsored on behalf of our veterans have now been signed into law by the President," said Senator Inhofe "Our veterans endure the unimaginable horrors of war so that we and millions around the world can live in freedom. The Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act makes significant steps to help veterans, young and old, deal with the trauma of war. It gives precedence to ensuring the readjustment of our soldiers returning from combat through counseling and peer support. It provides additional support for veteran's families and establishes national centers of excellence on post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, and epilepsy.
"I am also very pleased that my legislation allowing our veterans to salute the flag during the National Anthem has been signed into law. The salute is a form of honor and respect, representing pride in one's military service, which should be allowed our service members after retirement. I believe this is an appropriate way to honor and recognize the 25 million veterans in the United States who have served in the military and remain as role models to other citizens.
"Of course, there is still more to be done. I am disappointed that the amendment I cosponsored to fix the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset was not included in the final version of the Defense Authorization Act. I pledge to continue to push for that change until it becomes law."
U.S. Navy Captain (Ret.) Bill Mercer thanked Senator Inhofe for fighting for the SBP benefits, saying, "I am thankful to Senator Jim Inhofe for his support of military families in co-sponsoring Senator Bill Nelson's amendment to the Defense Authorization bill to eliminate the unfair Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) offset. Veterans groups have been fighting for this legislation for several years, which has been dropped in conference committee. Keep fighting Senator Inhofe! Our military needs you."
Senator Inhofe praised the President's signing of The Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008, a bipartisan bill that makes it easier for veterans to receive better mental health care with fewer hassles. This bill designates centers of excellence to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, and epilepsy. It will carry out a pilot program to provide veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom with peer outreach and professional services dealing with mental illness and readjustment. It also includes marriage and family counseling within authorized VA care for veterans.
Bruce Whitman, Co-Chairman, Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation and President and CEO, FlightSafety International praised Senator Inhofe for his work, saying "On behalf of America's Medal of Honor Recipients and FlightSafety's teammates in Oklahoma and around the world, we are very pleased that these bills received the support of Senator Inhofe and have been signed into law by the President. The Veterans Mental Health bill is a major step toward providing the type of mental health care our veterans deserve. We particularly want to commend Senator Inhofe for his successful efforts on the salute the flag legislation. If it were not for Senator Inhofe's commitment, 25 million American veterans would not be able to render the military salute to the American flag,"
Adding the salute to the National Anthem builds on the legislation Sen. Inhofe successfully passed in 2007 clarifying U.S. law to allow veterans and servicemen not in uniform to salute the flag in the same manner as those in uniform. Senator Inhofe's effort on behalf of America's 25 million veterans has garnered praise from veterans and publications across the country.
Richard Elsheimer, Past State Commander, Department of Oklahoma, Veterans of Foreign Wars thanked the Senator for his work on veterans issues, saying, "Senator James Inhofe has served diligently for many years as a veterans advocate in the United States Senate. He has served as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee that recently made 1.6 billion dollars available to the Army Ammunition Plant located in McAlester, Oklahoma. During the past year, the Senator voted in support of a new GI bill for military veterans, moving veteran education benefits into the 21st century. He also was instrumental in the passage of the largest increase in the Veterans Administration budget in history. He additionally supported Senate Bill 2162 which provided improved benefits for veterans utilizing the Veteran Administration medical facilities and services. The Senator's bill amending the United States Code to allow veterans and active duty military personnel to render the military salute when out of uniform gives additional dignity to veterans attending ceremonies that include the formal presentation to the flag of our country. During the past several months, the Senator has provided staff to conduct veteran forum meetings across the State of Oklahoma. These forums have provided invaluable assistance and information to several hundred our Oklahoma veterans. Senator Inhofe's case workers have willingly assisted those veterans who have unresolved issues pertaining to their former military service. As a Vietnam veteran, I would like to salute the Senator for his years of dedication to our military veterans and to those still on active duty in the defense of our country."
Additionally, Senate Resolution 692, designates the week of November 9, 2008 as "National Veterans Awareness Week" to emphasize the need to develop educational programs across the country in recognition of the contribution and sacrifice of veterans.
Listed below are specific provisions included in Senator Inhofe's legislation:
Cosponsor of The Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act of 2008, S. 2162:
-Requires the Secretary to reimburse a veteran for the costs of emergency treatment received in a non-VA facility prior to transfer to a VA facility.
-Directs the Secretary to designate at least six VA health-care facilities as locations for epilepsy centers of excellence.
-Directs the Secretary to: (1) develop and implement a comprehensive policy on the management of pain experienced by veterans enrolled for VA health care services
-Directs the Secretary to establish at least six national centers of excellence on post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders
-Requires the Secretary to conduct a: (1) review of all VHA residential mental health care facilities; and (2) follow-up review, within two years after the first review, to evaluate any improvements made or problems remaining with respect to such facilities.
-Directs the Secretary to carry out a three-year pilot program to assess the feasibility and advisability of providing veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and, in particular, veterans who served in such operations as a member of the National Guard or reserves, with: (1) peer outreach; (2) peer support provided by licensed providers or veterans with personal experience with mental illness; and (3) readjustment counseling and other mental health services.
-Directs the Secretary to carry out a program of research into comorbid PTSD and substance use disorder through the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
-Includes marriage and family counseling within authorized VA care for veterans.
-Directs the Secretary to carry out, through a non-VA entity, a three-year pilot program (with authorized one-year extensions) to assess the feasibility and advisability of providing readjustment and transition assistance to veterans and their families in cooperation with ten VA Vet Centers.
Sponsor of The Veteran's Salute Provision included in Section 595 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, S. 3001:
-Amends Title 36 of the United States Code to allow service members not in uniform to salute the flag during the National Anthem.
-FY08 Authorization Bill modified Section 9 of Title 4, US Code, to allow members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform to render the military salute during hoisting, lowering, or passing of the flag
-While the change made to US Code Title 4 allowed our veterans and service members not in uniform to salute the flag when the flag is raised, lowered, or passing in review, it did not allow them to salute the flag during the National Anthem
-With this amendment, titles of the US Codes are now consistent for veterans and military out of uniform, saluting the flag