WASHINGTON – Veterans suffering from traumatic brain injury will receive broader rehabilitation services as part of a larger VA bill that President Obama signed into law on Monday.
"Signing this legislation into law is a great victory for our veterans and their families who are fighting the unseen injuries of war," said Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., who sponsored the provision.
Boozman said the new law should guarantee that the Department of Veterans Affairs provides rehabilitation services that adequately address the physical and mental health needs of veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
Since 2001, more than 1,500 service members have suffered from a severe TBI, many of whom require rehabilitative programs ranging from total care for the most basic needs to semi-independent living support. The VA, however, had focused its care on physical rehabilitation.
"With so many veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with TBI, we have an obligation to the men and women who serve and sacrifice on behalf of our grateful nation. Providing the best services to our troops who have sustained a TBI is part of our commitment to ensure that our military personnel know we will be there for them and their families when they return from battle," Boozman said.
At the White House on Monday, President Obama said the bill overall would have an immediate impact.
"It is going to improve access to health care, streamline services in the VA. It expands support for veterans who are homeless," Obama said.
The president said it would also end a decade-long struggle for Marines and family members seeking some compensation for illnesses suffered by those exposed to tainted drinking water at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987.
Some of the Boozman provision was included in a broader VA benefits bill that cleared Congress last week.
"Veterans and their families who were based in Camp Lejeune in the years when the water was contaminated will now have access to extended medical care," he said.
The bill also prohibits protesting within 300 feet of military funerals. Congress included the provision in response to last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas to conduct anti-gay protests at the funerals of slain soldiers.
"Obviously we all defend our Constitution and the First Amendment and free speech, but we also believe that when men and women die in the service of their country and are laid to rest, it should be done with the utmost honor and respect," Obama said.