STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - November 10, 2005)
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Mr. BURR. Mr. President, I rise today to honor our Nation's veterans for their service and their sacrifice. We will celebrate Veterans Day tomorrow, and I am proud of the improvements we have made in providing benefits and care to our country's heroes.
In the past 10 years, since I first came to Congress, the veterans budget has increased by 77 percent, an annual average increase of over 7 percent. The VA's health care budget has increased over 85 percent during this time. We have also enacted a fix to the concurrent receipt problem and made groundbreaking progress with computerized health records at the Veterans Department. I am proud of these efforts, but I certainly understand the need to do more to stay ahead of the curve.
I also want to detail the recent growth in the veterans population in North Carolina. Our State's veteran population has increased by over 100,000, to 780,000 veterans since 1980.
This growth rate comes at a time when the number of veterans in the United States is decreasing. Veterans are moving to the State because many of them were stationed there while on active duty, and they have moved back because of the quality of life in North Carolina.
I have two bills I have introduced today that I believe will improve the services we currently provide to our veterans. The first is the Services to Prevent Veterans Homelessness Act which makes grants to nonprofit and faith-based organizations to provide services to extremely low-income veterans who are in permanent housing. The goal is to keep them from becoming homeless. The services provided for in this bill--from vocational counseling and personal finance planning to health and rehabilitation--were designed to address the root causes of homelessness.
The VA estimates on any given night as many as 200,000 veterans are homeless and as many as 400,000 are homeless at some point during the year. We also know that 45 percent of the homeless veterans have a mental illness, and 50 percent have some sort of addiction.
The cost of this bill is $25 million annually, a small sum to help the poorest of our veterans. In North Carolina alone, over 43,000 veterans live below the poverty line. This bill would allow the VA to partner with nonprofits in order to help poor veterans escape the root causes of homelessness. I urge the Senate to consider whether we are doing enough on this issue. More importantly, I invite my colleagues to study this bill and to become a cosponsor.
Next, I introduced the Veterans Outreach Improvement Act which authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to partner with State and local governments for outreach to veterans. This bill provides grants to State veterans agencies and county veterans service offices to help them with outreach and claims development and to provide education and training of officers. The bill would also authorize $25 million annually for this outreach program.
County veterans service officers are charged with assisting veterans and their dependents in seeking benefits as a supplement to the work being performed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are overseen by the Division of Veterans Affairs in North Carolina and receive accreditation from organizations approved by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Many veterans need assistance in filing claims in order to make sure that the claim is accurate and complete. County veterans service officers and officials from State veterans agencies are often the officials who can actually sit down face to face with a veteran to develop a claim and to send it to the VA. This bill makes the VA a partner in that outreach process.
On the eve of Veterans Day this year, I join my colleagues in honoring veterans across this country for their heroic service to our Nation.