Text: S.1363 — 110th Congress (2007-2008)All Information (Except Text)

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Introduced in Senate (05/10/2007)


110th CONGRESS
1st Session
S. 1363


To improve health care for severely injured members and former members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.


IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

May 10, 2007

Mrs. Clinton (for herself and Mr. Durbin) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Armed Services


A BILL

To improve health care for severely injured members and former members of the Armed Forces, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. Short title.

This Act may be cited as the “Bridging the Gap for Wounded Warriors Act ”.

SEC. 2. Health care for severely injured members of the Armed Forces.

(a) In general.—

(1) TREATMENT AS ON ACTIVE DUTY OF MEMBERS OTHERWISE RETIRED FOR PHYSICAL DISABILITY.—Any member of the Armed Forces who is medically retired because of physical disability under chapter 61 of title 10, United States Code, for a disability incurred in or aggravated by service in the Armed Forces shall be treated, during the period described in paragraph (3), as a member of the Armed Forces on active duty for purposes of the entitlement of such member to health care services and benefits under law.

(2) SERVICES AND BENEFITS.—The services and benefits to which a member is entitled under paragraph (1) shall not include pay and compensation for active duty.

(3) PERIOD OF TREATMENT.—The period for which a member of the Armed Forces shall be treated as a member of the Armed Forces on active duty under paragraph (1) shall be the longer of—

(A) the two-year period beginning on the date on which the member is medically retired as described in that paragraph; or

(B) the period, if applicable, during which the member's name is on the temporary disability retirement list.

(4) ENTITLEMENT TO HEALTH CARE.—Each member of the Armed Forces treated under paragraph (1) as a member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall be entitled, while so treated, to any health care services and benefits to which a member of the Armed Forces on active duty is otherwise entitled under law.

(5) CONSTRUCTION.—The treatment under paragraph (1) of a member of the Armed Forces as a member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not be construed to affect or alter the treatment of the member as medically retired, or on active duty, as applicable, for any other purpose under any other applicable provision of law.

(b) Members receiving care from Department of Veterans Affairs.—

(1) TREATMENT AS VETERAN.—Any member of the Armed Forces on active duty who receives health care and services from the Department of Veterans Affairs for a wound, injury, or illness incurred in or aggravated by service in the Armed Forces for which the member would otherwise be eligible for medical retirement because of physical disability under chapter 61 of title 10, United States Code, shall, during the period described in paragraph (3), be treated as a veteran for purposes of the entitlement of such member to health care services and benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

(2) SERVICES AND BENEFITS.—The services and benefits to which a member is entitled under paragraph (1) shall not include pay and compensation for active duty.

(3) PERIOD OF TREATMENT.—The period for which a member of the Armed Forces shall be treated as a veteran under paragraph (1) shall be the longer of—

(A) the two-year period beginning on the date on which the member incurs or aggravates the wound or injury providing the basis of such treatment under that paragraph; or

(B) the period during which the member is assigned to the Department of Veterans Affairs for purposes of receipt of health care services and benefits from the Department.

(4) ENTITLEMENT TO HEALTH CARE.—Each member of the Armed Forces treated under paragraph (1) as a veteran shall be entitled, while so treated, to any health care services and benefits to which a veteran with a service-connected disability, in accordance with the clinical needs of such veteran, would be entitled under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

(5) COST OF CARE.—The costs of any health care and services furnished under this subsection shall be borne by the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall enter into a memorandum of understanding setting forth mechanisms for the payment of such costs by the Secretary of Defense.

(6) CONSTRUCTION.—The treatment under paragraph (1) of a member of the Armed Forces as a veteran shall not be construed—

(A) to affect or alter the treatment of the member as a member of the Armed Forces on active duty; or

(B) to affect, alter, or impair the eligibility or entitlement of the member for benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs or the Secretary of Defense after separation, release, or retirement from the Armed Forces.

(c) Effective date.—This section shall take effect for members of the Armed Forces wounded or injured on or after October 7, 2001. However, no compensation is payable under this section for any period before the date of the enactment of this Act.

SEC. 3. Joint Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs office for coordination of assistance during transition of members of the Armed Forces from military service to civilian life.

(a) Office.—

(1) ESTABLISHMENT.—The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall jointly establish a joint office for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs for the coordination of assistance to members of the Armed Forces in their transition from service in the Armed Forces to civilian life.

(2) NAME.—The office established under paragraph (1) shall be known as the “Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition” (in this section referred to as the “Office”).

(b) Leadership.—

(1) DIRECTOR.—The Director of the Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition shall be the head of the Office. The Director shall be an individual as follows:

(A) During the one-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act, and every second one-year period thereafter, the Director shall be an official of the Department of the Veterans Affairs assigned to that position by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from among officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs having civilian rank equivalent to the military grade of brigadier general or rear admiral (lower half).

(B) During each one-year period not covered by subparagraph (A), the Director shall be a member of the Armed Forces on active duty assigned to that position by the Secretary of Defense from among members of the Armed Forces on active duty in the grade of brigadier general or rear admiral (lower half).

(2) DEPUTY DIRECTOR.—The Deputy Director of the Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition shall be the deputy director of the Office. The Deputy Director shall be an individual as follows:

(A) During the one-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act, and every second one-year period thereafter, the Deputy Director shall be a member of the Armed Forces on active duty assigned to that position by the Secretary of Defense from among members of the Armed Forces on active duty in the grade of brigadier general or rear admiral (lower half).

(B) During each one-year period not covered by subparagraph (A), the Deputy Director shall be an official of the Department of the Veterans Affairs assigned to that position by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from among officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs having civilian rank equivalent to the military grade of brigadier general of rear admiral (lower half).

(3) ACCESS.—The Director shall have direct access to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs regarding the discharge of the functions of the Office.

(c) Functions.—The functions of the Office shall include, but not be limited to, the following:

(1) The development and implementation of policies originating in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that pertain to the transition of members of the Armed Forces from service in the Armed Forces to civilian life and the resolution of policy issues that arise between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs on matters relating to the continuity of care and benefits for members of the Armed Forces from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs during and after the transition from service in the Armed Forces to civilian life.

(2) To develop a standard medical record for both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(3) With respect to members of the Armed Forces undergoing discharge, separation, or release from the Armed Forces, to develop an electronic standard certificate of release or discharge from active duty for transfer to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(4) To develop uniform standards, to be applicable across the military departments and to the Department of Veterans Affairs, for the physical examination to be provided to members of the Armed Forces immediately before discharge, separation, or release from the Armed Forces.

(5) To develop uniform standards, to be applicable across the military departments and to the Department of Veterans Affairs, for the rating of disabilities incurred or aggravated by members of the Armed Forces during service in the Armed Forces.

(6) To establish uniform policies, where practicable, on the provision of pay and allowances for travel for members of the Armed Forces, and their designated caregivers (if appropriate), who are receiving health care benefits from the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs at the time of discharge, separation, or release from the Armed Forces.

(7) Oversight of the establishment by the military departments of policies to ensure that members of the Armed Forces who, at the time of discharge, separation, or release from the Armed Forces require medical care or counseling for a wound, injury, or condition incurred or aggravated in service in the Armed Forces, receive the care and services (including case management services) they require during discharge, separation, or release from the Armed Forces and thereafter.

(8) To improve the sharing between the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs of information to facilitate the payment of retired pay, compensation, and other post-separation benefits to members of the armed forces undergoing discharge, separation, release, or retirement from the armed forces, and their dependents or survivors, including information necessary for the payment of—

(A) retired or retirement pay;

(B) veterans disability compensation, including concurrent receipt of veterans disability compensation and retired pay;

(C) combat-related special compensation under section 1413 of title 10, United States Code;

(D) benefits under the Survivor Benefit Plan and veterans dependency and indemnity compensation; and

(E) such other pay or benefits to which such members, and the dependents or survivors, are entitled.

(9) To develop protocols for the collaboration of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs in the use of medical facilities shared by the Departments, for the allocation of costs for such use, and for the sharing of pertinent research information between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(10) To provide for the sharing between the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs of best practices on care, treatment, and services for individuals and their family members for conditions incident to wounds or injuries incurred in combat, including, but not limited to, mental health conditions (including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)), traumatic brain injury (TBI), limb function loss (including burns, broken and fractured bones, amputations), vision problems, and spinal cord injuries.

(11) To monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers of the Department, the Centers of Excellence of the Office of Research and Development of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and appropriate medical treatment facilities.

(12) To perform the functions of the Office of Seamless Transition as transferred to the Office by subsection (h).

(13) To resolve policy issues that arise between and among the military departments and the Department of Veterans Affairs on matters relating to care and benefits for members of the Armed Forces undergoing discharge, separation, release, or retirement from the Armed Forces.

(d) Resolution of policy issues.—Any resolution by the Office of a policy issue under paragraph (13) subsection (c) that involves a military department shall be subject to the approval of the Secretary of Defense. Any resolution by the Office of a policy issue under that paragraph that involves the Department of Veterans Affairs shall be subject to the approval of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

(e) Participation of other agency personnel.—The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall, with the consent of the head of the department or agency concerned, provide for the participation in the activities of the Office of such personnel from other departments and agencies of the Federal Government having responsibilities relating to the transition of members of the Armed Forces from service in the Armed Forces to civilian life as is necessary to ensure the effective coordination of the activities of the Office with the activities of such departments and agencies relating to the transition of members of the Armed Forces from service in the Armed Forces to civilian life.

(f) Reports and briefings.—

(1) BRIEFING REQUIRED.—Not later than six months after the date of the establishment of the Office, and every six months thereafter, the Director of the Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition shall submit to the Department of Veterans Affairs–Department of Defense Joint Executive Committee, and to the appropriate committees of Congress, a briefing on the activities of the Office during the six-month period ending on the date of such report.

(2) ANNUAL REPORTS REQUIRED.—The Director of the Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition shall on an annual basis submit to the Department of Veterans Affairs–Department of Defense Joint Executive Committee, and to the appropriate committees of Congress, a report on the Office. Each report under this paragraph shall include the following:

(A) A description and assessment of the activities of the Office during the year preceding the year in which such report is submitted.

(B) A discussion of the activities proposed for the Office during the year in which the report is submitted, including schedules for assessments, recommendations, and implementation of such activities.

(3) APPROPRIATE COMMITTEES OF CONGRESS DEFINED.—In this subsection, the term “appropriate committees of Congress” means—

(A) the Committees on Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs of the Senate; and

(B) the Committees on Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs of the House of Representatives.

(g) Biennial assessment by GAO.—Not later than two years after the date of the enactment of this Act, and every two years thereafter, the Comptroller General of the United States shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress (as defined in subsection (f)(3)) a report setting forth the assessment of the Comptroller General of the progress made by the Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition in carrying out its functions under subsection (c).

(h) Transfer of Office of Seamless Transition.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The responsibilities, functions, and powers of the Office of Seamless Transition of the Department of Veterans Affairs are hereby transferred to the Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition.

(2) TERMINATION.—The responsibilities of the Office of Seamless Transition of the Department of Veterans Affairs are hereby terminated.

(i) Transfer of responsibilities of applicable DoD offices.—The Secretary of Defense shall provide for the transfer to the Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition of such functions and responsibilities of offices and elements of the Office of the Secretary of Defense as the Secretary considers appropriate, consistent with the functions of the Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition under subsection (c), to facilitate the discharge by the Office of its functions under that subsection.

(j) Joint Executive Committee.—Section 320(a)(2) of title 38, United States Code, is amended—

(1) in subparagraph (A), by striking “and” at the end;

(2) in subparagraph (B), by striking the period at the end and inserting “; and”; and

(3) by adding at the end the following new subparagraph:

“(C) the Director of the Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition and the Deputy Director of the Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition.”.

(k) Funding.—The Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall jointly make available from the DOD–VA Health Care Sharing Incentive Fund each fiscal year such amounts as are required for the activities of the Department of Defense–Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Transition during such fiscal year.

SEC. 4. Reform of disability rating systems of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(a) Actions following determination of unfitness for duties.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in paragraph (3), each member of the Armed Forces who is determined by the Secretary of the military department concerned to be unfit to perform the duties of the member's office, grade, rank, or rating because a physical disability described in section 1201(a) or 1203(a) of title 10, United States Code, shall—

(A) be evaluated by a disability ratings team of the Department of Veterans Affairs at the military medical treatment facility at which the member is currently receiving care for purposes of the assignment of a prestabilization disability rating, if applicable; and

(B)(i) if determined pursuant to evaluation under subparagraph (A) to have a prestabilization rating of 50 percent or 100 percent disabled (as determined in accordance with the provisions of section 4.28 of title 38, Code of Federal Regulations), be placed on the temporary disability retired list to receive compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs in accordance with such prestabilization rating of disability, pending the assignment of a final disability rating by a disability ratings team of the Department of Veterans Affairs; or

(ii) if determined pursuant to evaluation under subparagraph (A) not to qualify for a prestabilization rating described in clause (i), be further evaluated by a disability ratings team of the Department of Veterans Affairs at the military medical treatment facility at which the member is currently receiving care for purposes of assigning a final disability rating to the member while still on active duty.

(2) DOCUMENTATION OF DETERMINATIONS.—The Secretary of the military department concerned shall document, in writing, each determination of unfitness made as described in paragraph (1).

(3) APPEAL OF DETERMINATION OF UNFITNESS.—Any member of the Armed Forces subject to a determination of unfitness to perform the duties of the member's office, grade, rank, or rating described in paragraph (1) may appeal that determination under such procedures as the Secretary of Defense shall prescribe for purposes of this paragraph. Such procedures shall include—

(A) mechanisms for the appeal of a determination of unfitness;

(B) procedures and standards for the consideration of any such appeal; and

(C) mechanisms for the return of the member to active duty in the event the member's appeal is successful.

(b) Utilization of final disability rating.—The Secretary of Defense shall utilize the final disability rating that was documented by the Secretary of the military department concerned as rendering a member of the Armed Forces unfit for duty for purposes of determining the eligibility of the member for retirement pay and other benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Defense.

(c) Repeal of limitation on commencement of period of payment.—

(1) REPEAL.—Section 5111 of title 38, United States Code, is repealed.

(2) CLERICAL AMENDMENT.—The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 51 of such title is amended by striking the item relating to section 5111.

(d) Authorization of appropriations.—There is hereby authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary to carry out this section.

SEC. 5. Reports on programs of Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs for the assessment and treatment of wounded members of the Armed Forces.

(a) Preliminary report.—Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General of the United States shall submit to Congress a preliminary assessment of the extent to which medical facilities of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs offer interdisciplinary medical treatment for wounded members of the Armed Forces.

(b) Final report.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than one year the date of the enactment of this Act, the Comptroller General shall submit to Congress a final report on the extent to which medical facilities of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs offer interdisciplinary medical treatment for wounded members of the Armed Forces.

(2) CONTENTS.—The report required by paragraph (1) shall include a comprehensive assessment of medical facilities of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs that offer services in each of the following areas:

(A) Mental health.

(B) Behavioral neurology.

(C) Neurology, including treatment of traumatic epilepsy.

(D) Physical rehabilitation.

(E) Vocational training.

(F) Any other health care areas that the Comptroller General considers appropriate.