Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hosted a press conference today on Capitol Hill surrounded by the VFW and other veterans and military service organization members. The purpose was to call on the full Senate to pass S. 1982—the Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014—which the VFW has called the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation to be introduced in decades.
Many top VFW legislative priorities are addressed in the bill, to include proposals to expand and improve healthcare and benefit services to all generations of veterans. Most notably, the bill would eliminate the one percent COLA reduction on working-age military retirees, as well as provide advance appropriations for mandatory VA accounts, which would guarantee monthly disability and survivor checks, and GI Bill education payments, would continue in the event of a future government shutdown.
Since Sanders first introduced his legislation, your VFW has generated more than 5,000 messages to every Senate office, calling on their support of the bill. To contact your senator on S. 1982, click here.
As a result of Congress not authorizing lease extensions, Kelley said the VA has been forced to either close or reduce the size of outpatient clinics, or to extend existing leases without making necessary improvements. He said this lapse in proper leasing has deprived veterans of access to medical care close to their homes.
For transitioning service members and veterans seeking employment, S. 1982 improves the Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bills by ensuring that veterans who attend a public college or university can only be charged in-state tuition rates, provided the student veterans is residing in the state and is enrolled within three years of discharge from military service. Thanks to the ongoing advocacy of the VFW and its partners, a similar proposal on in-state tuition passed in the House just last night with overwhelming bipartisan support, 390-0.
For surviving spouses and their children, the bill proposes an increase to monthly Disability Indemnity Compensation payments for three years instead of the current two years, and survivors who remarry after the age of 55 would not be penalized with the loss of DIC, medical care or education benefits. This bill would also improve survivors’ education benefits by expanding the Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry Scholarship program to include surviving spouses, and expand Yellow Ribbon Program eligibility to beneficiaries of Fry Scholarships.
For members of the National Guard and Reserve, the bill makes improvements to the Uniformed Servicemembers Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA. It also extends the time in which Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are eligible to enroll in VA healthcare from five years to 10 years.
The bill also works to improve many other areas of concern to the veterans’ community, such as improving the disability claims process; the claims process and care accessibility for victims of military sexual trauma; the extension of economic opportunity programs like the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, VA Work-Study, and the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program; and the addition of dental care.
Sanders was quick to point out that this bill is the result of a bipartisan effort, and that it was written based on suggestions expressed by all the veterans organizations. All who joined the chairman strongly support this piece of legislation and urge a quick passage.
For more details on the bill, including a link to full text of S. 1982, click here.
Your VFW expects S. 1982 to come to the Senate floor this week. We will keep you posted on this blog with updates.
(Image: VFW Legislative Director Ray Kelley explains why the VFW supports S. 1982 during today's press conference on Capitol Hill. Photo by Brendon Gehrke.)