Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi: Funding Our Nation's Vets

This year, our Bay Area veterans and veterans across the country will finally receive the resources and benefits that they have earned and that they deserve.

The release of $3.7 billion more than the president's budget request - approved by Congress in December and signed by President George Bush in January - provides the largest single funding increase in the 77-year history of the Department of Veterans Affairs. With the release of the funds, the "new direction Congress" has provided an extra $6.7 billion over the last year to meet the various needs of our nation's veterans.

The increased funding will strengthen quality health care for 5.8 million patients, including about 263,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The funds will be used for much-needed maintenance for VA health care facilities and treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury for returning veterans.

Here in San Francisco, the Northern California Institute for Research and Education at the San Francisco Veterans Hospital will receive $4 million to support groundbreaking research on PTSD and other injuries that occur on the battlefield. Additional funding is essential for the substantial population of veterans who receive VA health care and are struggling to get into the middle class, with a median annual income of $23,000.

In 2007, the San Francisco VA Medical Center alone served 47,765 patients. This included 381,872 outpatient visits and 5,497 inpatient visits. Nationwide, some of the funds will help reduce the backlog of veterans' claims (currently more than 400,000) waiting for their earned benefits by adding 1,800 claims processors. The additional funds will also be used toward travel reimbursement for veterans who need to travel long distances for care.

This historic increase garnered widespread support from America's leading veterans' organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Military Officers Association of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AmVets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, National Association for Uniformed Services and Disabled American Veterans.

Overall, this increase in funding for our veterans builds on the first steps taken by Congress at the beginning of 2007 - increasing veterans' health care and benefits by $5.2 billion for improved care and shorter waiting lines for veterans waiting up to 177 days to receive their earned benefits. With this historic veterans funding, the "new direction Congress" is fulfilling a critical need for our nation's veterans.

I am glad that the Bush administration finally agreed to provide funds for our veterans, after dismissing the $3.7 billion that the Democratic-led Congress added to the president's request for 2008. After years of neglect in Washington at a time of war, Congress will ensure that our local veterans and our veterans around the country will have the resources and benefits they deserve.

On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. And with this national investment, we fulfill our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House of Representatives.