By Debbie Gregory.
On July 24th, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs approved a package of bills aimed at improving benefits and health care services for veterans and their families.
However, following a tradition that dates back three decades, the text of the bills was not released and won’t be made available until the measures are reported to the Senate. That may not happen until fall.
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 require the VA provide detailed reports to Congress on the effort to eliminate the staggering claims backlog.
The legislation cleared by the committee would:
•Expand eligibility benefits to spouses in states that allow gay marriages. The measure would bring the VA into conformance with a June 26 ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down 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. Ruth Moore was the inspiration for this legislation. 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 Congressman, Bernie Sanders, for help.
•Extend to veteran caregivers 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. The 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 eligibility for recently-separated veterans to qualify for in-state tuition, and improving the level of benefits offered to survivors of service members killed while 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.