Veterans Back Benefits Bill

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 – Leaders of more than 20 veterans’ service organizations today joined Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at a news conference to support the most comprehensive legislation for veterans in decades.

The bill (S. 1982) is backed by the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and many other organizations.

“This bill is the result of a great deal of bipartisan work to address issues raised during congressional hearings in which many of these organizations testified before joint sessions of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees,” Sanders said. “In my view, this is the most comprehensive piece of veterans’ legislation to be offered in decades and addresses many of the challenges facing service members, veterans and their families.” 

The package would improve VA health care and dental care, expand educational opportunities, help the VA address a disability claims backlog and help veterans find jobs. The measure also would undo a 1 percentage point cut in annual cost-of-living adjustments for military pensions that was part of a budget agreement late last year.

The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Conn.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

The legislation includes provisions that would:

• Improve veterans’ health care through increased access to complementary and alternative medicine, chiropractic care and transportation services.

• Improve VA’s claims system in part by requiring quarterly reports to Congress on efforts to eliminate a 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.

• 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.

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

• Assist veterans suffering from reproductive issues, largely related to the widespread use of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, in starting their families.

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

The legislation will not increase the deficit because the $24 billion cost of the bill is paid for by $4 billion in savings from the VA and offset by $20 billion in caps on the Overseas Contingency Operations fund that will lock in savings from winding down military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For a summary of the bill, click here.

To read the bill, click here.

To read letters from veterans’ service organizations, click here.