Out of a deep sense of commitment, Congress by resolution, and I by proclamation, called upon the Nation this year to honor the sacrifice and contributions of the 9.9 million Vietnam era veterans during Vietnam Veterans Week, from May 28 through June 3, 1979. The veterans of Vietnam had to demonstrate an extra measure of heroism because of the divisiveness of the war. We as a nation are finally ready to recognize and appreciate their valor and patriotism.
The statistics that show that the overwhelming majority of returned Vietnam veterans have readjusted successfully are a tribute to their courage, but no comfort to those who have not been able to overcome the psychic or physical damages of the war. In declaring Vietnam Veterans Week, I spoke of our Nation's moral debt to these veterans. In signing S. 7, we begin today to repay that debt.
S. 7 will enable the VA to provide special readjustment counseling for Vietnam era veterans and their families. This is an extremely important feature. The burden and pain of the war and its recurring trauma are shared fully by the veterans' families. Their well-being is essential for successful rehabilitation. The counseling provision includes important mental health followup services as well. The VA will make every attempt to provide services for eligible veterans and, when necessary, avail itself of the services of community mental health centers and other facilities where VA readjustment counseling centers are inaccessible or unable to provide necessary services.
S. 7 will also permit the VA to establish a 5-year pilot program for the treatment and rehabilitation of veterans with alcohol or drug dependence or abuse problems. While drug problems are on the decline among Vietnam veterans, alcohol problems are rising. This important pilot program will enable veterans to receive appropriate treatment and counseling for these special problems in their own communities where such treatment is most effective.
I am concerned about the hospital construction provision of S. 7 which may delay or impair important hospital construction projects undertaken by the VA system. Our commitment to the health needs of our veteran population must come first; I believe that VA recommendations on future construction sites have been based on that commitment. I hope that this new authority in S. 7 will not politicize nor unnecessarily delay future VA constructions.
The special provisions of S. 7 which are the key initiatives of my legislative program will permit the VA to more fully and flexibly respond to special needs, particularly those of Vietnam era veterans which have not until now been fully and adequately addressed. Max Gleland, my VA Administrator, testified 10 years ago on behalf of psychological readjustment counseling. I congratulate Senator Alan Cranston, who has been a tireless champion for psychological readjustment counseling legislation for many years and deserves great credit for final passage of this legislation.
The Nation has shown its appreciation to veterans over the years. With this act we demonstrate again our recognition of those contributions. We also give special tribute to Vietnam era veterans and demonstrate forcefully that this country has opened its eyes and its heart to their unique experience and sacrifice.