U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi toured the Veterans Administration hospital in Phoenix Wednesday and promised former military personnel that Congress is taking a “new direction” regarding veterans.
That new direction is new funding.
“In the military, it is said we will leave no soldier behind and when they get home, we in Congress promise that we will leave no veteran behind,” she said after her 42-minute tour at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center.
Pelosi, along with Reps. Harry Mitchell and Ed Pastor, both Arizona Democrats, met with hospital administrators, doctors, patients and patients’ families, before speaking at a press conference in the hospital’s lobby.
She noted that earlier this year members of the House voted to increase the VA budget by $6.7 billion, which would mark the largest single increase in the agency’s 77-year history.
The proposed increase is intended to boost the quality of medical care for the nation’s 5.8 million patients in the VA system, including about 263,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
“As soon as we can get the president to sign the bill, you will feel the effects of that increased funding,” said Pelosi, a California Democrat.
The proposed funding boost also is designed to reduce a backlog of 400,000 disability claims by adding more than 1,100 new claims processors, and creating toll-free telephone and Web-based hotlines for veterans to report deficiencies in VA care.
Former Marine Jordan Sherwood, 24, a Tempe resident who was injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in March 2005, said he has been pleased with treatment he has received for his fingers, legs, nose and face.
Yet dealing with his injuries has made it more difficult for him to re-adjust to civilian life. For instance, he flunked two pre-employment drug tests this week because he’s taking prescription painkillers for his injuries. That required him to acquire and submit extra paperwork, he said.
“I don’t necessarily know why she’s here, but I think it’s good for any politician to come out to what it’s actually like and to talk to people,” Sherwood said about Pelosi’s visit.
Medical personnel at the hospital treat about 2,100 patients a day and 650,000 patients a day.
Hospital director Donald Moore told Pelosi that the hospital could use a mental health ward, an emergency room, additional surgery units and other facilities totalling $20 million.