Military Connection: Senate VA Reform Bill: By Debbie Gregory

By Debbie Gregory

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On June 11, 2014, the U.S. Senate passed the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 by a vote of 93-3 (with four Senators abstaining.) The bill was approved through the Senate with almost the same vigor as the June 10th passing of the Veterans’ Access to Care Act of 2014 in the House, where that bill passed by vote of 426-0 (with five Congressmen abstaining.)

Although now similar in name and intent, they are not the same bill. The House bill that recently passed H.R. 4810, has to be approved through the Senate. The Senate bill that passed S.2450 was actually a bill that was amended from an already approved House bill, H.R. 3230, which passed in the House on October 3, 2013 by a vote of 265-160.

The original H.R. 3230 was the Pay Our Guard and Reserve Act. The writers of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 included the old contents of H.R. 3230, and fused them with much of the content on the unanimously passed H.R. 4810 to make their S.2450 bill.

Like the Veterans’ Access to Care Act of 2014, the Senate’s Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 is designed to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The highly publicized VA scandal has brought a flurry of calls for VA reform. The Senate bill would make it easier for the VA secretary to fire VA executives and employees. It would also allow Veterans who were told by the VA that they would not be able to get an appointment in a reasonable amount of time, and Veterans who live more than 40 miles from their VA facilities to seek treatment from non-VA hospitals. These provisions are identical to the main points of  H.R.4810.

But S.2450 goes a lot farther in providing for Veteran. The Senate bill calls for all public colleges to provide Veterans with in-state tuition rates. It also calls for the VA to build 26 new facilities to improve the quality and frequency of care. Another subtle, yet powerful change would be providing education benefits for nearly 2,000 military widows.

Under current legislation, widows only get up to $936 a month for education. But S.2450 would allow widowed spouses to use the full benefit of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which pays full tuition, $500 per semester for books and supplies, and a monthly housing allowance that is equal to E-5 with dependent BAH for the school’s zip code.

Since S.2450 technically already has House approval, it only needs to survive negotiations between both houses, and then be signed by the president. It will most likely mean that the unanimously passed H.R. 4810 will die.

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Military Connection: Senate VA Reform Bill: By Debbie Gregory