03/25/07 — N.C. congressional delegation ranked in effectiveness

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N.C. congressional delegation ranked in effectiveness

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on March 25, 2007 2:02 AM

North Carolina's congressional delegation spent another busy week in Washington D.C. this week, even as consulting firm Knowlegis ranked every member according the amount power they wield, taking into account political party, committee assignment, seniority and fundraising ability.

Sen. Richard Burr was ranked 86th in the Senate and Sen. Elizabeth Dole was ranked 95th. In the House, Rep. Mike McIntyre was ranked 132nd, Rep. G.K. Butterfield was ranked 158th and Rep. Walter Jones was ranked 318th.

This week several bills were introduced to support the military, including two by Jones.

The first was one to ensure that troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan receive expedited compensation for service-related disabilities.

Currently, a veteran must prove to the Veterans' Benefits Administration (VBA) that his or her disability is service-connected in order to receive benefits. This lengthy process in which the veteran has the burden of proof has resulted in a backlog of 400,000 cases at the end of 2006. That number is expected to increase exponentially as service members return from Iraq and Afghanistan with multiple and complex claims.

"A great number of our men and women in uniform are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with injuries sustained during combat," Jones said. "During times such as these, it is especially important that our nation honors its commitment to our veterans by ensuring their access to superior medical care.

"This legislation is just a small indication of the immense gratitude we have for our veterans. America's veterans are also America's heroes, and they deserve the best we can offer.

The bill's provisions will:

*Shift the burden of proof from the veteran to the VA in processing claims for service-connected disabilities by requiring the VBA to approve all veterans' claims (90 percent of claims are already approved under the current system) and audit a percentage of them, set by the Secretary, to weed out fraud.

*Allow veterans to simply provide proof that they served in the conflict they claimed and fill out rudimentary forms outlining their claims.

*Allow benefits to be awarded immediately at the median level for the veteran's type of disability until the appropriate level is determined, enabling veterans to see at least some immediate compensation while their final benefit level is being determined.

*Direct the Secretary to redeploy an appropriate amount of VBA claims workers to assist veterans applying for claims and recommending levels of benefits.

*Apply only to veterans filing new claims and to claims that are backlogged at the time the law takes effect; it will not be retroactive for veterans whose claims have been previously denied.

Jones also voted in favor of the Wounded Warriors Assistance Act to ensure that America's injured and wounded military soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines receive the finest health care available. The legislation is designed to help restore confidence in the integrity and efficiency of the disability evaluation system, and begin the process of achieving a truly seamless transition of service members to the Department of Veterans Affairs programs.

In the Senate, Burr highlighted the creation of the Army's Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline, which will provide wounded soldiers and their families another way to resolve medical issues.

The Wounded Soldier and Family Hotline can be reached from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday at (800) 984-8523.

The U.S. Department of Defense provides similar services for severely injured troops of all branches through the Military Severely Injured Support Center which can be reached at (888) 774-1361.

The Marine Corps operates the "Marine for Life" program to provide support services to injured Marines. It can be reached at (866) 645-8762.

Burr also introduced the Amniotic Fluid and Placental Stem Cell Banking Bill of 2007. This legislation sets up a network of banks to store amniotic fluid and placental cells under the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, according to new research -- done by the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine -- that shows that a small number of stem cells in amniotic fluid and the placenta can give rise to many of the specialized cell types found in the human body. Under the bill, the Secretary of Health and Human Services would contract with qualified amniotic fluid and placental stem cell banks to create and maintain a national inventory of 100,000 new high-quality amniotic fluid and placental stem cell units. The legislation authorizes $20 million annually to establish the banks.

Mrs. Dole also had a busy week, introducing several pieces of legislation.

The first was the reintroduction of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Pregnant and Parenting Student Services Act, which would provide higher education institutions with start-up grants to offer student service centers that help pregnant and parenting students find child care, health care, family housing and adoption services.

She also introduced legislation to reauthorize and expand the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, which provides U.S. commodity and agricultural products and financial and technical assistance for child nutrition services in some of the world's poorest countries.

In the House, McIntyre was recently presented with the National Congressional Award from the National Recreation and Park Association in recognition of his commitment to youth sports. He is the founder of the Congressional Youth Sports Caucus.