Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Senate Legislation for Veterans "Unprecedented" in Its Scope

The U.S. Senate is expected to very soon take up historic veterans' legislation first covered by The Reno Dispatch last week that, among other things, restores pensions for military retirees. That's just one piece of what is being called the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation to come before the Senate in decades.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told reporters today that the measure would rescind a 1 percent point cut in the annual adjustment for benefits for military retirees under age 62. As we reported here last week, veterans groups have been vociferously urging Congress to do away with that cynical provision of the bipartisan budget deal Congress approved late last year.

But the measure doesn't stop there. It also addresses a variety of other programs for veterans. For that reason it appears to have earned the support of just about every major veterans’ group in the nation.

In a letter to Sanders, Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), said this legislation would achieve “many of the goals for which veterans and military service organizations have been advocating for years, including strengthening the Post-9/11 GI Bill, expanding advance appropriations for more of the VA’s budget, expanding dental care coverage for veterans, expanding benefits for surviving spouses, expanding care related to military sexual trauma, instituting new rules for VA’s claims processing reports, and much more.”

The legislation includes provisions that would:

• Improve the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) embattled claims system in part by requiring quarterly reports to Congress on efforts to eliminate the notorious backlog of benefits claims by 2015. VA would have to detail both the projected and actual number of claims received, pending, completed and on appeal.

• Ensure veterans receive consistent access to the benefits they have earned by establishing advanced appropriations for the mandatory accounts at VA.

• Improve veterans’ healthcare through increased access to complementary and alternative medicine, chiropractic care and transportation services.
• Expand access to education benefits for veterans and their survivors, including making recently separated veterans eligible for tuition at the in-state rate and improving the level of benefits offered to survivors of certain service members killed on active duty.
• Assist veterans suffering from reproductive issues, largely related to the widespread use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

• Renew provisions from the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, including a two-year extension for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program.

Joseph W. Johnston, national commander of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), said in a statement this week that the bill is “unprecedented in our modern experience,” and that it would “create, expand, advance, and extend a number of VA benefits, services and programs that are important to DAV and to our members.”


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