Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Reviews Pending Veterans Legislation: October 2013

United States Senate buildingOn October 30, 2013, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing on pending legislation involving the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) delivery of health care and benefits services.  The Committee reviewed more than 30 pieces of legislation that addressed a broad range of issues including faster filing of claims for veterans benefits, rural health care, and expanding VA enrollment eligibility.  Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) provided a statement for the record.

Legislation of particular importance to Paralyzed Veterans included S. 1216, the “Improving Jobs Opportunity for Veterans Act.”  Paralyzed Vetreans supported this bill as it would require training establishments that apply for state approval of on-the-job training programs to guarantee that the wages paid to veterans in training will be increased in regular periodic increments.  This legislation also directs the VA to enter into agreements with other federal agencies to operate similar on-the-job training programs for eligible veterans to perform skills necessary for employment by the department or agency operating the program.  This initiative would be an excellent program to ensure that the men and women that served their country will be trained and prepared to continue serving their country.

The Committee also reviewed S. 411, the “Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act,” which if enacted would require VA to include specific objectives in the current strategic plan of the VA Office of Rural Health that define specific goals in the areas of recruitment and retention.  Recruiting and retaining medical professionals in rural settings continues to be a challenge as the population of veterans residing in rural areas continues to grow.  Paralyzed Veterans supported this bill and further believes that attracting and retaining adequate staff within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to rural areas is one of the most critical elements of improving access to VA care for all veterans.

Paralyzed Veterans also supported proposed legislation that would improve the adaptive automobile assistance grant.  This draft bill on replacement automobiles for disabled veterans would allow the grant to be used up to three times until reaching the maximum dollar amount.  Paralyzed Veterans fully supported this bill and further encouraged the Committee to evaluate the effectiveness of allowing veterans to use their Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grant up to three times (a provision that was enacted into law several years ago) as a basis for comparison in understanding the potential for allowing a similar benefit with the automobile assistance grant.

Paralyzed Veterans did not support the “Toxic Exposure Research and Military Family Support Act of 2013,” a bill to make a VA medical center the national center for the diagnosis, treatment, and research of health conditions of descendants of individuals exposed to toxic substances while serving as members of the Armed Forces.  Despite the fact that the bill recognized the importance of providing descendants of veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances with quality, effective care, provisions of this bill are outside of the VA’s official mission, and entitle the descendants of veterans to services and benefits that are unavailable to even service-connected disabled veterans enrolled in the VA health care system.

Additional bills discussed during the hearing involved improving VA mental health care services, updating premium rates for the service-disabled veterans' life insurance program, and enhancing VA services involving military sexual trauma.  Paralyzed Veterans Legislation staff will continue to follow these important issues, and work with Congressional staff and VA leadership to improve veteran services.  To read Paralyzed Veterans' statement for the record, please visit www.pva.org/legislation.

Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America on Capitol Hill 

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    Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Reviews Pending Veterans Legislation: October 2013