Sanders Details Sweeping Veterans Legislation

BURLINGTON, Vt., Jan. 22 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told reporters today that the Senate is expected to soon take up legislation to restore pensions for military retirees as part of the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation to come before the Senate in decades.

The measure that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has called a top priority for the Senate also would address a host of other programs for veterans, including expanded health care and dental care and improved education benefits.

Sanders (I-Vt.) told a news conference that the measure would rescind a 1 percentage point cut in the annual adjustment for benefits for military retirees under age 62.  There has been a groundswell in Congress to undo that provision in the bipartisan budget deal that Congress approved late last year.

Other provisions address long-standing concerns of veterans’ and military service organizations and “deliver on the promises that we have made to our service members,” the chairman said.

The bill has garnered support from virtually every major veterans’ group in the country, Sanders added.

“This massive omnibus bill, unprecedented in our modern experience, would create,

expand, advance, and extend a number of VA benefits, services and programs that are important to DAV and to our members,” wrote Joseph W. Johnston, National Commander of the Disabled American Veterans, which represents 1.2 million service-connected disabled veterans who were wounded, injured or became ill while in military service.

“This legislation would accomplish 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,” Paul Rieckhoff, the CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a letter to Sanders.

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.

For a complete summary of all the provisions in the bill, click here.

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

To read the bill, click here.