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Bernard S.
Independent VT

About Sen. Bernard
  • Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act

    by Senator Bernard Sanders

    Posted on 2014-07-16

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    SANDERS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Brown). Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Veterans Health Care Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, I wanted to inform the Members about an important hearing that was held this morning in the Senate Veterans' Committee. I also wish to thank the Members of the Senate who, in the midst of a very partisan environment last month, voted with 93 votes-- overwhelming support--to pass a very significant piece of legislation to help the men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country--legislation that was written by Senator McCain and myself, and I thank him very much for his help in this effort.

    One of the important provisions in that legislation was an understanding that the needs of our veterans are a cost of war. They are a cost of war just as much as guns and tanks and planes and missiles are a cost of war. It seems to me to be fairly obvious that if we spend trillions of dollars fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is absolutely appropriate to make sure we have money available on an emergency basis to take care of the men and women who use those guns and tanks and missiles and who put their lives on the line and, in some cases, never come home.

    So the first point I wish to make is that if we send people to war, we should always understand that a cost of that war is taking care of our veterans.

    I recall--and I see the chairperson of the Appropriations Committee and she will recall this as well--that when this country went to war in Iraq and after in Afghanistan--and let me be clear, I voted against the war in Iraq--but when we went to war in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the understanding was that this is emergency funding; that our troops, no matter how one voted on the war, needed the equipment to take care of themselves, to protect themselves, and to win the mission. That is exactly where we are today. We want to win this mission. The mission we are involved in now is making sure the men and women who served this country in the military get quality care in a timely manner. That is the mission we have to win now, and that, in my view, is a cost of war.

    I think there is not widespread awareness of what the cost of war is, and I hope, A, we never get into more wars in the future, but that if we ever do, people understand that any budget for war must include the needs of veterans--not 2 years after the war but 70 years after the war. When some veteran is sitting in some room in an apartment without legs, without arms, without eyesight, that is a cost of war and we don't desert those people--not tomorrow, not 50 years from now, not 70 years from now. Our moral commitment is to make certain we provide for those who defend us.

    I think there is not sufficient understanding about what the cost of war truly is. I wish to mention just a few facts people should understand. Over 2 million men and women served this country in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Studies are very clear that 20 to 30 percent of those men and women have come home with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. That is between 400,000 to 500,000 men and women who are coming home with PTSD or TBI. What that translates into is men and women who are struggling every single day. It translates into outrageously high rates of suicide for younger veterans, substance abuse, inability to hold on to a job and earn a living; many of these folks have a difficult time being around people. It translates into divorce. It translates into emotional problems for kids and for other family members.

    Since fiscal year 2006, the number of veterans receiving specialized mental health treatment has risen from over 927,000 to more than 1.4 million in fiscal year 2013. Today, and every day, approximately 49,000 veterans are receiving outpatient mental health appointments. Let me repeat that. Today, some 49,000 veterans in 50 States in this country are receiving mental health appointments. That is a staggering number. During the last 4 years, VA outpatient mental health visits have increased from $14 million a year to more than $18 million a year. This is just one of the problems facing the veterans community. How do we provide the psychiatrists, the social workers, the psychologists, the counselors we need? It is a huge issue because PTSD and TBI are very tough illnesses.

    In addition, what we are looking at now--and every Member of the Senate is familiar with this--is outrageously high waiting periods for veterans to get into the VA. Time and time again I hear from veterans in Vermont and I hear from veterans all over the country; I hear from veterans organizations and I read independent surveys which tell me that when veterans get into the VA, the quality of the care they get is good. I just met 2 hours ago with a veterans organization--same thing: Once people get into the system, the quality of care is generally good; the problem is accessing the care. The problem is appointments.

    I will not read to my colleagues all of the statistics, but trust me the waiting lines all over this country are much too high in many parts of America. There are other people who never even made it to the waiting lines. This has to do with a whole lot of issues that we have discussed.

    The bottom line is we must address the waiting time issue and make sure that in the very near future, every veteran who is in need of health care gets that health care in a timely manner.

    Sloan Gibson, who is the Acting Secretary of the VA---- The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont is informed that the time is under Republican control, if the Senator would suspend.

    Mr. SANDERS. Could I ask my colleague just for 3 more minutes? Mr. RISCH. The Senator may do so.

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