Senate approves compromise before going on break
A recently passed Senate bill grants increased benefits to Union County veterans. Before moving into their six week November election break, the Senate and House passed the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010 compromise bill Sept. 28 by voice vote. The bill is a compromise measure between the House and Senate which encompasses a number of smaller, stand-alone veterans benefits bills. It includes improvements to employment programs, homeless outreach efforts, disabled veterans assistance and research into future medical needs of returning troops.
One of the more significant improvements the bill will give is an increase in Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance, which provides $90,000 for mortgage payoff following the death of a veteran with a service-related disability. This bill increases the payout to $200,000. The bill is also slated to increase the amount of supplemental life insurance from $20,000 to $30,000.
Another major component of the bill is that it reauthorize the recently expired Veterans Affairs’ work-study program and expands the type of work available for participating veterans. The extension allows for veteran students to complete work study in congressional offices, state veteran agencies, or any position working jointly between the VA and an institution of higher learning.
“A growing number of the eight million students in America’s community colleges are Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki in a statement after the bill’s passage “VA will do all it can to make Veterans’ experiences in our community colleges and universities fulfilling and productive for them, their schools and the Nation.”
Additionally the bill contains a provision to assist legitimate veteran-owned businesses in securing contracts set aside specifically for them.
The bill also includes reauthorization of appropriations for homeless veterans reintegration programs.
Homeless veterans grants from the Labor Department would be expanded specifically to help women and homeless veterans with children by including child care services along with training, counseling and placement services including job readiness, literacy and skills training.
A pilot program is also included in the bill to provide grants in three states to try to help veterans find jobs in energy-related fields, although the states have not been named yet. Other provisions included in the bill address the need for increased medical benefits and compensation as well as research into combat related illnesses.
For instance the measure specifically allows for the Institute of Medicine to carry out a comprehensive review of best treatment practices for chronic multi-symptom illness in Gulf War veterans and develop a plan for dissemination of best practices through the VA. It also extends the review and evaluation of chronic multi-symptom illness by the National Academy of Sciences of veterans of the Persian Gulf War and Post-9/11 global operations.
Two additional medical related provisions were authored by North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr. These provisions would enhance disability compensation for certain disabled veterans with difficulties using prostheses, as well as provide greater automobile and adaptive equipment to veterans with severe burn injuries. It would also increase the automobile allowance for disabled veterans from $11,000 to $18,900.
In a statement Sen. Burr praised the inclusion of the provisions saying, “this bill recognizes the unique challenges that our veterans face, whether it’s difficulty with a new prosthetic limb or the difficulty of coping with a severe injury in the civilian world and it increases resources so that severely-injured veterans can live their lives to the fullest.”
The Paralyzed Veterans of America National Legislative Director Carl Blake also offered support for the bill, saying, “the increase in the cap for Independent Living services administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation program will prove beneficial to the most severely disabled veterans who simply want to become productive members of society. Once again, we thank the Committee for it continued emphasis on improving benefits for severely disabled veterans and their families.”
Other additions to the bill would prohibit early termination fees for certain contracts like cell phone service and residential leases after service members receive notice of military orders to relocate to a site that does not support the contract. It would also allow the Attorney General to bring a civil suit against any violator of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides a wide range of protections for service members.
The bill now goes to the White House for President Obama’s signature.