Paralyzed Veterans of America is urging lawmakers in the second session of the 113th Congress to ensure sufficient, timely and predictable funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs for the remainder of fiscal 2014 as well as next year. Similarly, Paralyzed Veterans has partnered with a number of veterans and military service organizations to call for advance appropriations to all VA discretionary and mandatory programs, services and benefits.
In letters to House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairmen Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Bernard Sanders, D-Vermont, Paralyzed Veterans of America National Legislative Director Carl Blake emphasized the importance of timely and advance appropriations for the VA through fiscal 2016, particularly as Congress and the Obama administration face immense pressure to reduce federal spending.
Paralyzed Veterans of America also urges immediate approval of legislation (H.R. 813 and S. 932) that would extend advance appropriations to the VA, thereby shielding discretionary and mandatory programs including VA health care, disability compensation processing and benefits payments from most of the harmful effects of potential continuing resolutions and government shutdowns in the future.
“While the enactment of advance appropriations authority for VA medical care has been successful in helping the VA health care system operate more efficiently and rationally during budget stalemates, the remaining VA budget accounts continue to be negatively affected by unrelated political and partisan fights,” Blake said.
Another high-priority issue for Paralyzed Veterans of America is passage of legislation that would expand eligibility for the VA Caregiver Support Program by eliminating a requirement that benefits under the program are only provided to caregivers of veterans with a service-connected injury incurred after Sept. 11, 2001.
While companion bills (H.R. 3383 and S. 851) would eliminate that requirement and expand eligibility for VA caregiver assistance benefits to veterans who were injured prior to Sept. 11, 2001, Paralyzed Veterans also urges lawmakers to consider and pass legislation that would expand eligibility to veterans who have incurred a serious illness or disease – including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – as a result of their service.
“It makes no sense whatsoever that an entire generation of veterans is being denied caregiver benefits simply because of the selection of an arbitrary date,” Blake said. “The only justification is that it costs too much, but that’s not a justification, it’s an excuse.”
Paralyzed Veterans of America also recommends that Congress reinstate a reporting mandate that expired in 2004 and, as a result, has led to the VA’s failure in meeting capacity requirements for staffing and number of inpatient beds available within the Spinal Cord Injury/Disorder System of Care.
“This requirement will make certain that catastrophically disabled veterans’ access to care is not decreased due to the VA’s failure to meet mandated capacity requirements, and hold VA accountable for having the requisite number of available inpatient beds for veterans, as well as required levels of staff to deliver quality of care,” Blake said.
Paralyzed Veterans of America also recommends the House and Senate committees make a concerted effort to improve and expand benefits for the most severely disabled veterans, particularly with regards to Special Monthly Compensation paid to severely disabled veterans as well as travel reimbursement benefits to catastrophically disabled non-service connected veterans.
Paralyzed Veterans also supports legislation (H.R. 2789 and H.R. 3790) that would repeal a provision in the fiscal 2014 budget agreement that cut cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) by one percent for military retirees who are under age 62, including medical retirees.
Other high priorities for Paralyzed Veterans through the remainder of the 113th Congress include passage of legislation that would authorize the VA to offer reproductive services for catastrophically disabled service-connected veterans, as well as legislation that would remove the participation cap on VA’s Independent Living program – an integral part of the rehabilitation process – to ensure it is available to all veterans who require such services.
“Given the challenges that catastrophically disabled veterans face, it is important for us to focus our efforts on improving benefits and health care services for our members, veterans with spinal cord injury or dysfunction,” Blake said.
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America’s priorities for the second session of the 113th Congress
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.