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Veterans' Health Care Issues in the 109th Congress

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Publication Date: October 2006

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32961

Topic: Health (Health services administration)
Military and defense (Veterans)


The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides services and benefits to veterans who meet certain eligibility criteria. VA carries out its programs nationwide through three administrations and the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is responsible for veterans health care programs. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is responsible for providing compensation, pensions, and education assistance among other things. The National Cemetery Administration's (NCA) responsibilities include maintaining national veterans cemeteries.

VHA operates the nation's largest integrated health care system. Unlike other federal health programs, VHA is a direct service provider rather than a health insurer or payer for health care. VA health care services are generally available to all honorably discharged veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces who are enrolled in VA's health care system. VA has a priority enrollment system that places veterans in priority groups based on various criteria. Under the priority system VA decides each year whether its appropriations are adequate to serve all enrolled veterans. If not, VA could stop enrolling those in the lowest-priority groups.

Congress continues to grapple with a number of issues facing current veterans and new veterans returning from Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). They include trying to ensure a seamless transition process for veterans moving from active duty into the VA health care system, and improving mental health care services such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) treatment programs for returning veterans.

In recent years, VA has made an effort to realign its capital assets, primarily buildings, to better serve veterans' needs. VA established the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) initiative to identify how well the geographic distribution of VA health care resources matches the projected needs of veterans. Given the tremendous interest in the implementation of the CARES initiative in the previous Congress, the 109th Congress would continue to monitor the CARES implementation.

Several veterans' health-care related bills have been passed by either the House or Senate. At present, these bills are pending action in the other chamber.

This report will be updated as events warrant.