And that’s why I’m asking both departments to work together to define and build a seamless system of integration with a simple goal: When a member of the Armed Forces separates from the military, he or she will no longer have to walk paperwork from a DOD duty station to a local VA health center; their electronic records will transition along with them and remain with them forever. (Applause.)
Now, this would represent a huge step towards modernizing the way health care is delivered and benefits are administered for our nation’s veterans. It would cut through red tape and reduce the number of administrative mistakes. It would allow all VA sites access to a veteran’s complete military medical record, giving them the information they need to deliver high-quality care. And it would do all this with the strictest and most rigorous standards of privacy and security, so that our veterans can have confidence that their medical records can only be shared at their direction.
Now, the care that our veterans receive should never be hindered by budget delays. I’ve shared this concern with Secretary Shinseki, and we have worked together to support advanced funding for veterans’ medical care. What that means is a timely and predictable flow of funding from year to year, but more importantly, that means better care for our veterans. And I was pleased to see that the budget resolution passed by the Senate supports this concept in a bipartisan manner.
I’m also pleased that the budget resolutions adopted by both houses of Congress preserve priorities that I outlined in my budget — priorities that will go a long way towards building that 21st-century VA that we’re looking for. The 2010 budget includes the largest single-year increase in VA funding in three decades. And all told, we will increase funding by $25 billion over the next five years.
This budget doesn’t just signify increased funding for the VA health care program; it significantly expands coverage so that 500,000 more veterans who have previously been denied it will receive it, and it strengthens care and services across a broad range of areas.
Because the nightmares of war don’t always end when our loved ones return home, this budget also meets the mental health needs of our wounded warriors. Untold thousands of servicemen and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other serious psychological injury. The growing incidence of suicide among active military returning veterans is disturbing. Sometimes the deadliest wounds are the ones you cannot see, and we cannot afford to let the unseen wounds go untreated. And that’s why this budget dramatically increases funding for mental health screening and treatment at all levels. It increases the number of vet centers and mobile health clinics, expanding access to this needed care in rural areas. And it helps reduce the stigma of seeking care by adding mental health professionals to educate veterans and their families about their injuries and their options.