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Press Release of Senator Cantwell

Cantwell, Obama Introduce Measure to Deliver Quality Care for Wounded Soldiers

Legislation would improve care and counseling, end unacceptable living conditions for wounded, eliminate red tape for returning servicemembers

Thursday, March 01,2007

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in introducing legislation to provide wounded servicemembers the high-quality care and treatment they deserve and were promised. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act follows reports of unacceptable living conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the site where many returning U.S. servicemembers receive treatment for severe wounds incurred while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 126 Washington state servicemembers have received treatment at the facility. The legislation would reduce paperwork, mandate better facilities and improved inspections, enhance counseling services, increase support for the families of recovering service men and women, and create a new oversight panel charged with ensuring quality care.

"We owe our men and women in uniform the best available care, treatment, and service," said Cantwell. "Our commitment to them does not end when they return home or when they leave the military. It is absolutely inexcusable that wounded members of our armed forces, injured while serving their country, receive anything less than the best care available. This important legislation would provide an immediate fix to help make sure we always treat our returning servicemembers with respect and dignity."

The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act would:

• Implement clear standards for military outpatient housing, equal to the standards for active-duty barracks • Require the completion of outpatient housing repair requests within 15 days • Establish a zero-tolerance policy for pest infestation • Make high-level military officials aware of problems at medical facilities • Require a 24-hour emergency medical technician and crisis counselor at all outpatient residences

On average, it takes more than 200 days for wounded soldiers to find out their status: whether they will remain in the military or be discharged, and, if discharged, their disability level. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act would reduce duplicative and unnecessary steps by setting up injury-specific procedures, creating online options for all paperwork, and streamlining case processing operations. It would also set up at 24-hour helpline.

Currently, some caseworkers at Walter Reed handle 50 or more recovering soldiers, creating a work backlog and preventing many servicemembers from getting help with paperwork and appointment-scheduling. The Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act would increase the number of caseworkers, improve training, and establish an interim ratio of one caseworker and one supervising non-commissioned officer for every 20 service members. The legislation would also protect the jobs of family members caring for recovering service members, and extend medical care, counseling services, and employment services to family members at military facilities.