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HOUSE OKAYS BILLS ON VET CARE

Four bills aim to improve counseling and care for veterans.

The House took steps Monday to improve counseling and care for the tens of thousands of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder.

A bill approved on voice vote would require the Veterans Affairs Department to provide outreach and mental health services to veterans of the two campaigns. The VA secretary is directed to contract with community mental health centers in areas not adequately served by the VA.

The measure was one of four veterans bills passed by the House on voice votes.

In April, the VA reported that one-third of veterans of the two wars have sought VA health care since fiscal 2002 and that mental disorders comprised 37 percent of possible diagnoses among recent battlefield veterans.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, also allows the VA secretary to make grants to conduct therapeutic workshop programs in such areas as music and the arts.

The bill provides grants for rural veterans service organizations to help transport veterans in remote areas, makes permanent a program to treat participants in Defense Department chemical and biological testing, expands counseling services for veterans emerging from prison who are at risk of homelessness, and provides housing assistance to very low-income veterans.

A second bill waives co-payment for veterans receiving hospice care at home or at acute-care facilities and another assures that disabled veterans living temporarily with a family member are eligible for adaptive housing assistance.

The fourth bill extends pension benefits to World War II veterans of the U.S. Merchant Marine who were deprived of the benefits given to most veterans after the war.

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