Connecting Vets: Congress introduces bills to increase veteran benefits, refund home loan fees, help women veterans
By: Abbie Bennett
While the House was busy passing its defense spending bill last week, other members of Congress were introducing other legislation aimed at helping veterans.
Cost of living adjustment
Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, introduced a bill, the "Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act" to increase veteran disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The bill, co-sponsored by all the members of the SVAC, increases the rate of VA disability compensation, dependent compensation for Gold Star families and the clothing allowance for veterans.
The cost-of-living adjustment for veterans matches the increases to Social Security recipients and is decided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index annually. The increase goes into effect Dec. 1, 2019, if the legislation passes the Senate and House and gains a presidential signature.
"My top priority is to ensure that veterans and their families receive the benefits they earned while serving our country," Isakson said. "I'm proud to introduce this legislation to increase benefits for disabled veterans in keeping with rising costs of living."
Home loan fee refunds
Tester and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., introduced a bill to ensure VA repays the thousands of disabled veterans for home loan fees wrongfully charged.
An Inspector General report revealed that the VA wrongly charged nearly 73,000 disabled veterans $286.4 million in home loan fees and the VA has known it owes those veterans the money since at least 2014.
The bill would require VA to:
- Report to Congress with a plan to ID all of the veterans wrongfully charged a fee, and a timeline to refund them.
- Develop an automated process for refunds to avoid the problem in the future.
- Restricts VA from requiring a veteran to need to request a refund.
- Develop a plan within three months to process the refunds, among other requirements.
"The (VA's) failure to uphold this responsibility has unduly burdened disabled veterans. This bill ends the VA's practice of unlawfully charging veterans who qualify for funding fee waivers. Ensuring the VA implements a process to reimburse veterans who weren't required to pay in the first place and prevent veterans from unfair penalties in the future must be a priority," Boozman said.
Care for women veterans
Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., introduced the Caring for Women Veterans Act, establishing an annual VA report to ensure that women veterans receive quality healthcare from VA hospitals.
The bill specifically directs the VA to submit an annual report to Congress on the gender-specific care available at VA facilities, to provide more information on the care women receive or don't.
The report will be required to include:
- Locations where women access VA care, including the number of women veterans in each state and how many have gotten care at each VA;
- How VA can model its care for women veterans based on private hospitals;
- Recommendations for hospital and clinic improvements and research on how to raise money for those improvements;
- The number of women's health centers, care teams, OBGYNs and women's health providers by facility;
- The number of doctors and other providers with qualifications to treat women's health conditions.
"By 2043, the population of women veterans is set to nearly double. As this number grows, the VA must modernize to ensure that all VA facilities are equipped to provide comprehensive services for all veterans," Underwood said. "The Caring for Women Veterans Act will identify ways the VA can improve care for women veterans and provide the VA with guidance to address the unique barriers to care they face. By empowering the VA to fulfill its mission to provide exceptional care, we can help more veterans access the quality care they deserve."
Another bill from Boozman and Tester is intended to help state cemeteries meet federal standards for veteran burials.
The bill would improve access to training to ensure cemeteries funded by VA grants maintain the standard necessary for veterans to rest there by allowing VA to cover the cost for employees to travel to that training.
"We owe it to our veterans and their families to ensure that our state and tribal cemeteries are properly looked after," Tester said. "By helping cemetery personnel get the proper, specialized training they need, we are honoring the courageous role men and women played in preserving our freedom and protecting this country."