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Tsongas votes to support landmark veterans legislation

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WASHINGTON, DC — Congresswoman Niki Tsongas voted to support the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. This landmark legislation will improve veterans’ health services by supporting wounded veterans and their families and caregivers, expanding care for female veterans, and improving mental health services.

Tsongas, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, voted to support the bill which passed unanimously 419-0, and released the following statement. The bill has already been approved by the Senate and will now head to the President for his signature.

“As the daughter of an Air Force Colonel whose childhood and teenage years were spent moving from one military base to another, I know how important it is to honor the commitment we have made to the men and women who have worn the uniform. The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act approved by the House today continues this commitment by improving mental health services, and expanding support for veteran caregivers, women veterans and veterans in rural areas.

“Tragically, both the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continue to experience unacceptably high rates of suicide. This bill further strengthens the VA’s capacity to serve veterans suffering from mental or behavioral health disorders by authorizing the VA to refer a veteran for appropriate services if those services are not readily available through the VA and by allowing the VA to provide readjustment counseling services to active duty service members returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The experiences of war change an individual, and it is our responsibility as a country to provide the necessary care to help these brave men and women heal from both their mental and physical wounds.

“Military service also demands sacrifice from the whole family, and it is frequently the family that provides the most direct care to our servicemen and women, and veterans. The financial, physical and mental exertion needed to care for severely injured servicemembers can place a tremendous strain on families, which is why this bill establishes counseling programs, respite care, lodging and subsistence payments, healthcare benefits, financial assistance, and other crucial services in support of the work of family caregivers.

“The bill also enhances existing VA services by offering training and education programs for caregivers so they can provide the best treatment possible. It is our responsibility to help ease this strain by providing comprehensive services to assist military and veteran families while their loved one is deployed and once they have returned home.

“As the wars we fight and the ways we fight them change, the healthcare services we provide to our changing military and veteran populations must also evolve. Women now make up over sixteen percent of our total force and the category of “women veterans” is one of the fastest growing categories in the VA healthcare system. This bill takes steps to modernize the VA to meet the increasing demand of this new reality. The bill requires a study focusing on the barriers faced by women within the VA healthcare system and increases the mental health and transition services available to female veterans. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will soon introduce legislation that requires the Department of Defense to conduct a similar review of accessibility to healthcare services for servicewomen in the military healthcare system.

“One of my highest priorities is meeting the needs of our military families and veterans. The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 improves our ability to meet these needs, and I was proud to support its passage this afternoon.”