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Begich Applauds Final Passage of Landmark Veterans Legislation

Begich's support helps spur passage after months of delay

Continuing his advocacy and support for military veterans and their families, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today applauded passage of overdue legislation which thoroughly overhauls many issues related to veteran's health care.

The Caregiver and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009 (S.1963), passed the Senate today by a vote of 98 to 0 after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) gave up a legislative hold on Tuesday. The hold had prevented the bill from moving to a vote for months. Begich has been publicly urging Coburn to allow the passage of this important legislation for the past several weeks.

The comprehensive bill increases the quality and quantity of care provided to veterans and the levels of support provided to caregivers of injured veterans. This includes providing benefits for caregivers of wounded veterans, enhancing outreach to homeless veterans and those in rural areas, and expanded health care for female veterans.

"The passage of this legislation is justice served," Begich said. "Veterans of this country have bravely fought to defend our freedom and we have come up short in providing for them. These new and improved services will help ensure that we recognize veterans for their sacrifices and provide them with care that they earned long ago."

As one of the foremost advocates for this legislation, Sen. Begich took to the Senate floor for the second time supporting the legislation. Continually aware of federal spending levels and the national deficit, Begich recognized Coburn's objections that the bill is "unfunded" in nature. However, Begich noted that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were permitted under the same fiscal circumstances and that caring for the veterans of these wars must be viewed the same as paying for their participation.

"Funding the wars is just as important as fulfilling our promises to our veterans when they return," Begich said on the floor. "So many issues facing our veterans today are addressed in S. 1963. Passage of this legislation and its enactment into law will improve and increase services for our veterans and acknowledge the sacrifice of their caregivers."

The legislation includes provisions to provide assistance to rural veterans, like many in Alaska, that face additional challenges accessing health care. It expands tele-medicine programs and provides the Department of Veterans Affairs authority to recruit and retain high quality health professionals in rural communities. The bill also improves mental health care as eligibility to receive readjustment counseling for Iraq and Afghanistan vets - including National Guard and Reservists - will increase.

The bill would eliminate co-payments for veterans who are catastrophically disabled and would allow the VA to reimburse those veterans for emergency care at non-VA facilities.

The American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Wounded Warrior Project and other groups are all supporters of the legislation.

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