The Senate today advanced legislation expanding health care, education, employment and other benefits for veterans.
The 99-0 vote clears the way for a Senate debate on the bill by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
“We have made progress but we still have a long way to go if we are to keep faith with those who have put their lives on the line to defend us,” Sanders said in a Senate floor speech before the vote. “I hope very much that we will go down that road together, that we will tell the American people that at least on this one issue we can stand together and protect the interests of those people who have sacrificed so much for our country.”
After the vote, Sanders reacted to Republican senators who want to inject a debate over Iran sanctions into the measure on veterans programs. “We can have honest differences on how to address veterans issues, but it is disrespectful to the millions of veterans in this country to introduce an extraneous provision on Iran sanctions,” Sanders said. “The American people have had enough of silly partisan politics. Let’s focus on veterans issues.”
The measure would improve health care and dental care services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also would allow the VA to open 27 new clinics and medical facilities to reduce travel time for veterans who live in rural areas.
Educational opportunities would be expanded by guaranteeing that post-9/11 veterans recently discharged from the military are eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in any state.
The bill would reauthorize provisions from the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, including a two-year extension of the Veterans Retraining and Assistance Program which retrains certain unemployed veterans for high demand occupations. The program has helped veterans find work and provided access to job training for more than 74,000 veterans.
The package includes a provision that would improve access to care and benefits for servicemembers and veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military.
Also under the measure, full cost-of-living adjustments would be restored for future military retirees. It would finish the job that Congress began when it passed legislation reinstating COLAs for current retirees.
The most comprehensive legislation for veterans to come before Congress in decades is strongly supported by virtually every veterans and military organization in the country, including the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled American Veterans, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Military Officers Association of America, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Gold Star Wives of America and many more.
To read a summary of the bill, click here.