Saluting our Veterans on Memorial Day

May 22, 2009 Issues: Veterans

This Memorial Day, as we remember the sacrifice and courage of the men and women who have fought for our country, I wanted to take a moment to share with you efforts taken this year to ensure that our veterans receive the benefits and compensation they deserve.  The Obama Administration and Congress have made veterans care a priority and I look forward to implementing an aggressive new agenda.

The Recovery Act (H.R. 1). The Recovery Act, or Stimulus, provides a $1.4 billion increase for the maintenance at VA medical facilities, construction of veterans’ extended care facilities, and veteran cemetery repairs. The bill also provides economic stimulus payments of $250 to disabled veterans receiving VA compensation or pension.

2010 Budget (S.Con.Res 13).  2008 and 2009 saw historic increases in veterans funding.  The 2010 budget resolution adopted by Congress builds on this progress by providing $53.4 billion in funding for veterans’ programs, which is $5.6 billion (11.7 percent) more than the 2009 level.  The budget resolution was supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, and others major veterans service organizations.

Expanding Health Treatment.  The budget resolution also calls for an end to the Bush Administration’s ban on enrolling modest-income veterans for VA health care.  It also provides more funding for the VA to research and treat mental health, post-traumatic stress disorder, and traumatic brain injury.

Veterans Emergency Care Reimbursement (H.R. 1377).  This legislation requires the VA to reimburse veterans receiving emergency treatment in non-Department of Veterans Affairs facilities.  The House approved H.R. 1377 on March 30th.

Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1171).  The VA now estimates that 154,000 veterans are homeless.  This legislation reauthorizes a program to provide services to homeless veterans with special problems such as legal issues, HIV, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  The program has thus far been successfully in providing employment to 65 percent of the veterans’ participating.  The House approved H.R. 1171 on March 30th.

Veterans Employment Rights Realignment Act (H.R. 1089).  This legislation gives the US Office of Special Counsel more authority to investigate and prosecute employment discrimination cases against veterans.  This will decrease the time it takes for a veterans case to be resolved.  The House approved H.R. 1089 on May 19th.

Adapted Housing Assistive Technology Grant Program (H.R. 1170).  This legislation creates a grant program to encourage the development of new assistive technologies or specially adapted housing for disabled veterans.  Cost-effective solutions are critical and can prevent the need for around-the-clock nursing care or admission to a nursing home for seriously wounded veterans.  The House approved H.R. 1170 on May 19th.

New GI Bill.  Finally, the new GI bill, which was passed last Congress, will come into effect this year.  This legislation restores full, four-year college scholarships for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, on par with the educational benefits after World War II, providing up to the cost of the most expensive in-state public school and also provides transferability of unused education benefits to spouses and children.  The VA is now taking applications for those who want to begin school in August.

Looking ahead, the Veterans Affairs Committee intends to address new ways to handle the VA claims backlog this year and the Appropriations Committee is working hard to ensure that next year’s VA funding is delivered on time.  These are both priorities for me as well.

While we can never fully repay our nation's veterans for their service and sacrifice, we must do our very best to ensure that they have the support and tools they need to succeed when they return home.  If you or anyone you know are ever experiencing trouble in securing your veterans benefits do not hesitate to contact my office at (586) 498-7122.