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WINGS
12-27-2006, 09:59
NEWS FROM THE CHAIRMAN OF THE U.S. SENATE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

PRESIDENT BUSH SIGNS CRAIG'S VETERANS BILL INTO LAW

$3.2 billion measure will improve health
delivery, overturns historic ban on attorneys, and expands benefits

December 24, 2006
Media contact: Jeff Schrade (202)224-9126

(Washington, DC) On Friday President George Bush
signed into law a $3.2 billion comprehensive
benefits and health care bill for veterans
sponsored by U.S. Senator Larry Craig, the
outgoing chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

"I hope veterans will rest a little easier this
Christmas knowing that Congress did its job. We
passed legislation that will enable this country
to move forward with major construction projects
for veterans and also will make some significant
changes that will benefit veterans and their
loved ones for generations to come," said Sen.
Craig from his home near Boise, Idaho.

The bill the President signed is
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:s.03421:>S.
3421, the Veterans Benefits, Healthcare, and
Information Technology Act of 2006.

Among its many provisions, the new law partially
overturns a policy dating back to the Civil War
era that has prohibited veterans from hiring
attorneys to help them seek veterans' benefits
until they have spent months - sometimes years -
exhausting the administrative process. The
original policy came during a time when lawyers
were often self trained and notoriously
unscrupulous. As signed into law, this bill will
now allow veterans or other VA claimants to hire
attorneys during VA's appeal process.

"The old law may have made sense in 1866, but 140
years later it was time to reexamine that
outdated policy. Veterans will still have the
option of utilizing the representation services
provided without charge by many veterans
organizations, but in addition they will have the
option of hiring an attorney if they so choose," Craig said.

The legislation will also require VA to establish
an Office of Rural Health. "For rural states like
http://www.visitid.org/ Idaho, the addition of
this office should ensure that VA continues to
focus on the needs and challenges of veterans who
live in outlying areas," Craig said.

The new law should also help rural states by
allowing VA to create a pilot program which makes
non-VA facilities - such as private nursing homes
or community hospitals - eligible for state veterans' home per diem
payments.

"This change will allow veterans to stay closer
to home and loved ones. I think that's important," Craig said.

Among its many provisions, the bill adds $65
million to increase the number of clinicians
treating
<http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/facts/veterans/fs_treatment_programs.html>post
traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and $2 million
for additional
<http://www1.va.gov/blindrehab/>blind
rehabilitation specialists and increases the
number of facilities where the specialists will
be located. It also authorizes VA to designate
six Parkinson's Disease Research, Education, and
Clinical Centers of Excellence, and at least two
Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence.

The bill contains provisions that will provide VA
with additional tools to help it contract with
veteran and disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

"We want to make sure that veterans who do
business with VA get high priority," Craig said.

The new veterans' law authorizes the replacement
of the VA facilities in New Orleans, which were
wiped out during Hurricane Katrina, and move
forward with new hospital projects in Denver, Las Vegas, and Orlando.

The bill also includes a provision sought by Sen.
Craig which requires the removal of the remains
of a double murderer - Russell Wayne Wagner -
from Arlington National Cemetery. Wagner brutally
murdered Daniel Davis, 84, and Wilda Davis, 80,
in Maryland in 1994. Their son,
<http://veterans.senate.gov/index.cfm?FuseAction=Newsroom.PressReleases&id=218>Vernon
Davis, is a veteran and he had sought help from
Sen. Craig and Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski
to have his parents' killer removed from that hallowed ground.

The new law will also enable the spouse or child
of a servicemember who is hospitalized or
receiving outpatient medical care to begin
receiving financial help through VA for their
education. Sen. Craig crafted that portion of the
legislation earlier this year after meeting with
<http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/health/july-dec06/victim_10-11.html>Army
Sgt. Jeff Mittman who was blinded during an attack in Iraq.

The new law will also enable tribal organizations
to obtain grants from VA to help them establish,
expand, or improve veterans' cemeteries on trust lands.

"We accomplished a lot for veterans with this
bill. It's a great way to finish the year," Craig said.
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