Making Veterans’ Healthcare Stronger and More Adaptive (Sen. Daniel Akaka)

Wars will always be outlived by their consequences – by the effects they have on the lives of those who served and their families. The Spanish American War lasted only a few months in 1898, but today the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is still providing support to more than 100 of the children and surviving spouses of veterans of that conflict.  We have only begun to see the human and financial costs of today’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Still, we know already that the needs of these veterans, as well as the needs of those who served in earlier eras, require VA to adapt.

This week I introduced legislation to help VA adapt and grow stronger. The Veterans’ Health Care Authorization Act of 2009 would improve veterans health care in many ways, most notably by doing these three things: strengthening recruitment and retention of medical professionals, establishing pilot programs to try new approaches to veterans’ care, and helping VA adapt to the growing number of women in military service.

VA operates the nation’s largest healthcare system, and it has a diverse and growing patient population. Change does not come easy for an entity of this size, but it must come. The growing female population is just one of the changes already underway in the veteran community. Older veterans are dealing with age-related health issues, sometimes aggravated by old war wounds. New veterans are returning with new injuries like traumatic brain injury. An increasing number of young and older veterans are being diagnosed with the invisible wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. These changes call for an adaptive, state-of-the-art healthcare system with a strong workforce.

The bulk of this legislation was included in a bill that was reported by the Veterans’ Affairs Committee last year.  We were unable to gain final action before the end of the Congress. I have chosen to introduce this as my first veterans’ bill of the year to convey my renewed desire to see it through to enactment. It is my hope that it will pass quickly, so we can continue to improve the healthcare veterans have earned through their service to our nation.