WASHINGTON, July 24 – The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today approved a package of bills to improve benefits and health care services for veterans and their families.
Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the package includes a measure to bring the Department of Veterans Affairs in line with a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. Other legislation approved by the Committee would improve the delivery of care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual assault in the military. Another bill would make the VA provide detailed reports to Congress on its effort to eliminate a staggering claims backlog.
The legislation cleared by the committee would:
• Expand eligibility for benefits for spouses married in states that allow gays to wed. The measure would bring the VA into conformance with a June 26 ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down a federal law that unconstitutionally denied federal benefits for all legally married couples.
• Improve the delivery of care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military. The Pentagon in May released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010. This legislation was inspired by Ruth Moore. Raped in 1987 by her Navy supervisor, Moore struggled for 23-years to receive VA disability compensation. Her battle for benefits finally succeeded when she lived in West Danville, Vt., and contacted her congressman, Bernie Sanders, for help.
• Extend to caregivers for veterans of all eras eligibility for the family caregiver program. This program currently provides services and benefits – including a monthly stipend, reimbursement for travel expenses, counseling, training and respite care – to caregivers of seriously injured post-9/11 veterans.
• Require 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.
• Improve veterans’ health care 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 service members killed on active duty.
• Expand employment opportunities for veterans through new programs that will encourage employers to hire veterans and by renewing the popular Veterans Retraining Assistance Program from VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.