In January 2014, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs introduced one of the most comprehensive veterans bills to ever be considered in the Senate or House—S. 1982 (originally introduced as S. 1950), the “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.” If enacted, S. 1982 would accomplish some of the highest priorities for Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) and its members.
This comprehensive bill would create, expand, advance, and extend a wide array of VA health care and benefits services and programs that are important to Paralyzed Veterans and its members. Specifically, this legislation provides for the expansion of the Comprehensive Caregiver Assistance Program to veterans of all eras (not just those injured after September 11, 2001). This change represents one of the single biggest priorities for Paralyzed Veterans.
The legislation also addresses another high priority for Paralyzed Veterans. Specifically, the bill provides advance appropriations authorityfor VA’s mandatory funding accounts (compensation and pension, education benefits, dependency and indemnity compensation, etc.) to ensure that in the event of a future government shutdown, veterans’ benefits payments would not be delayed or put in jeopardy. The need for this change was revealed during the partial government shutdown that occurred in October 2013.
Another high priority for Paralyzed Veterans that this legislation addresses is repeal of the reduction in future cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for all military retirees, not just service members who are retired due to disability. The Senate and House shamefully approved a one percent reduction in the COLA for military retirees as a part of the Bipartisan Budget Agreement in December 2013. Currently, it appears that the House and Senate may approve stand-alone legislation to repeal the COLA reduction for all military retirees.
Additionally, the legislation opens the VA health care system up to any veteran who wishes to enroll for care instead of entering into a health care exchange under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, it sets up a mechanism to expand access to dental care for all veterans.
Following a major grassroots effort from the veterans’ service organization (VSO) community to build support for S. 1982, Paralyzed Veterans along with many of its VSO partners joined Senator Sanders for a press conference to encourage bipartisan support for the measure. As a part of the press conference, Paralyzed Veterans emphasized the importance of the provision to expand the Comprehensive Caregiver Support Program to benefit veterans of all eras.
Subsequent to the introduction of the legislation, Senator John Boozman (R-AR) and Senate Mark Begich (D-AK) offered an amendment to S. 1982 that would make all the programs of the VA advance appropriations, including the discretionary accounts (with the exception of VA health care that is already advance appropriated). Paralyzed Veterans strongly supports the Boozman-Begich amendment.
Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America on Capitol Hill