Four Tester Priorities to Improve Veterans’ Access to Benefits Gain Traction in Committee

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee considered 13 bills, including Chairman’s bill to streamline veterans’ education benefits

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing today to solicit feedback from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) on 13 pending proposals—including four priorities authored by Chairman Jon Tester to improve oversight of disability exams, streamline access to education benefits, support veteran cemeteries, and help disabled veterans with rising costs of living.

During the hearing, Tester pressed VA on its ability to implement the Ensuring the Best Schools for Veterans Act, legislation authored by the Senator to streamline education benefits for student veterans by fixing a requirement known as the 85/15 Rule. Recent changes in VA’s implementation of the Rule have caused significant confusion for schools in Montana and across the country.

“In Montana, five schools have had programs suspended over the last year due to the 85/15 Rule, including two major universities—Montana State and the University of Montana,” said Chairman Tester. “My bill on the agenda today will clarify 85/15 requirements and make it easier for student veterans to enroll in legitimate education programs…assuming it [the Ensuring the Best Schools for Vets Act] passes, would the VA have the capacity to implement the provisions quickly so that student veterans wouldn’t be turned away from programs this fall?”

“Yes we would,” replied James Ruhlman, VA’s Deputy Director for Program Management. “The streamlining measures are very clear.”

Tester also pressed VA officials on deficiencies with veterans’ contract disability exams as noted in a recent report by the VA Office of Inspector General. The Senator’s No Bonuses for Bad Exams Act would expedite claims for veterans who received bad exams and require those exams to be expunged.

During the second panel, the Committee heard from stakeholders on the Chairman’s Ensuring the Best Schools for Veterans Act, No Bonuses for Bad Exams Act, and Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act, in addition to other bills put forth by Committee members.