BURLINGTON, Vt., February 16 - Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said today that a proposed $125 billion budget for veterans - a 20 percent increase since President Obama took office - will improve health care and other benefits for Vermont veterans.
This budget for 2011 which the White House unveiled this month also would expedite the processing of disability claims and aggressively address the serious problem of homelessness within the veterans' community.
"As a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, I'm proud to report that, while we still have a long way to go, we are making some good progress in improving the care and benefits that our veterans have earned and deserve," Sanders said.
Sanders was joined at the press conference by Milt Willis of the American Legion, Edward Laviletta of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Andrew LaCasse, assistant to the director of the White River Junction Veterans Administration Medical Center.
In Vermont, Sanders also said that he expects two new VA health clinics to open in the state within the next year. One will open in May in Brattleboro and another in the Northeast Kingdom, probably in the Newport area, by next year.
Highlights of the proposed budget include:
Expanding Care for Priority 8 Veterans: All veterans should have access to VA medical care, but in 2003, under the Bush administration, hundreds of thousands of veterans were denied access to VA health care because they were supposedly "high income" veterans. In reality, these were people who made as little as $28,000 a year. "I strongly opposed that decision and since the day it was announced I have worked hard to reverse it. And we've made some progress," Sanders said. Last year an estimated 265,000 so-called "Priority 8" veterans became eligible to re-enter the VA health care system, with the expectation that 500,000 will re-enter by 2013.
GI Bill: Congress in 2008 passed the most significant expansion in GI education benefits since World War II. This new program will enable hundreds of thousands of post 9/11 veterans or family members to get a higher education. To date, the VA reports that 198,000 students have received GI Bill payments. "Colleges in Vermont tell me that veterans here are beginning to take advantage of this program. This benefit could have a huge impact on a person's life, especially in these tough economic times, and I urge all Vermont veterans to learn how they may be able to take advantage of this important program," Sanders said.
Veterans Health Clinics in Vermont: Vermont is a rural state and it is important that our veterans have high quality primary health care access near where they live, rather than traveling long distances. In 2008, the veterans' health clinic in the Bennington area moved into a newly-renovated and much-improved building downtown. Within a few months, a new veterans' health clinic will be opening in Brattleboro. ‘This is very good news for the veterans in the southeastern part of our state who have wanted such a facility for years. I am also working with the VA to bring a health clinic to the Northeast Kingdom within the next year," the senator said.
Reducing Claims Backlog: The backlog of claims for disability payments for veterans has long plagued the VA and frustrated veterans. "It is unacceptable for veterans who have served their country to wait months, if not years, to have their claims processed or adjudicated," Sanders said. In order to improve that process the president's budget includes an increase of $460 million and more than 4,000 additional claims processors for Veterans benefits.
More information can be found by calling the VA at White River Junction at 1-866-687-8387 (866-OUR-VETS) or Senator Sanders' office in Burlington at 1-800-339-9834. Website is: http://www.whiteriver.va.gov/