District 1 U.S. House Representative and House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chair Jeff Miller (R-Chumuckla) and his counterparts in the Senate are praising a slew of veterans’ bills that moved forward this week in Congress.
They include a measure designed to improve veterans’ access to health care, disability benefits, education and homelessness assistance that passed the House unanimously yesterday.
Miller cosponsored that bill, titled H.R. 6416, “The Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016.”
According to a press release from Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the legislation will:
*Streamline portions of the process for veterans, their families and their survivors to obtain disability compensation and benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA);
*Expand the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims from seven to nine judges to help address the large backlog of veterans’ appeals that may soon arrive at the court;
*Make changes to the VA’s burial benefits and interment policies, including expanding eligibility for presidential memorial certificates to certain individuals who served in reserve units of the Armed Forces, among others;
*Provide a much-needed extension of education benefits for surviving spouses who lost a loved one on September 11, 2001, or during the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq;
*Improve how the VA administers and approves education benefits for veterans and allow mobilized reservists to keep their GI Bill eligibility when a deployment interrupts their schooling;
*Modify ownership requirements for small businesses participating in the VA contract assistance programs and require the Department of Labor to conduct a five-year study of job counseling, training, and placement service for veterans;
*Make improvements to the VA’s health care services and benefits to include:
— Ensuring preventative health services for veterans include access to adult immunizations for veterans who wish to receive them;
— Prioritizing access to care for medal of honor recipients;
— Ensuring veterans who served in classified missions can access mental health care without disclosing classified information;
— Requiring the VA to submit an annual report to Congress regarding the provision of hospital care, medical services and nursing home care by the Veterans Health Administration;
— Expanding the qualification criteria to make it easier to hire qualified mental health care professionals;
— Enhancing research on the potential health effects from toxic exposures to veterans and their descendants.
*Increase access to benefits for homeless veterans.
The bill is named after retiring chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., as well as outgoing ranking member Blumenthal of the Senate committee in tribute to their years-long commitment to serving veterans in Congress, according to Blumenthal’s website.
A section-by-section summary of the H.R.6416 is available here.
Veterans’ legislation that moved forward on Tuesday:
H.R. 6416, the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016, would make a number of improvements to VA health care, the disability compensation process and other veterans services. The bill would clarify VA’s responsibility to provide treatment to individuals seeking emergency care, expand the amount of time that certain widows and widowers may receive and utilize Post 9/11 G.I. Bill educational assistance benefits under the Fry Scholarship and require the secretary to notify Congress if an employee is placed on administrative leave for more than 14 days in a single year. It would also expand eligibility for medallions to mark the graves of our nation’s veterans and Medal of Honor recipients who are buried in private cemeteries.
H.R. 5399, the Ethical Patient Care for Veterans Act of 2016 would require VA doctors to promptly report unethical activities of other physicians to the applicable state licensing authority, in accordance with the American Medical Association Code of Medical Ethics.
H.R. 4352, as amended, the Faster Care for Veterans Act of 2016, would direct VA to carry out an 18-month pilot program of commercial patient self-scheduling software and establish capabilities standards for such a system.
S. 3076, the Charles Duncan Buried with Honor Act of 2016, would authorize VA to furnish a casket or urn for a deceased veteran laid to rest in a national, state or tribal cemetery if their family cannot afford it.
“These bipartisan bills are designed to help improve health care, benefits and services for those who are most deserving – our nation’s veterans. I’m especially proud of the provision in H.R. 6416 that brings transparency and accountability to VA’s often-abused administrative leave system. I applaud my colleagues for passing this meaningful legislation to improve care for our nation’s veterans and honor those who have fallen,” Miller said in a statement, regarding Tuesday’s actions.
“This omnibus measure with more than 70 provisions is broad and comprehensive in scope and scale,” said Blumenthal, of HR 6416. “More veterans, including many at risk of homelessness, will receive the care and benefits they need and deserve. VA hospitals will have better management of mental health counselors and emergency room doctors. Veterans’ families will be helped by extending critical education benefits to surviving members. Work will finally begin to help descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this critical legislation without delay, and forge ahead to ensure no veteran is left behind.”
On Wednesday, the House approved:
H.R. 5099, as amended, the Communities Helping Invest through Property and Improvements Needed for Veterans Act of 2016, also referred to as the CHIP IN for Vets Act of 2016, would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out a pilot program to allow non-federal entities – including state or city governments, nonprofit organizations and benefactors – to donate up to five facilities to VA.
H.R. 6435 would allow directors of VA’s regional networks to enter into a contract with an appropriate non-VA entity with expertise in health care evaluation to investigate any VA medical center within that director’s jurisdiction.
“The support and involvement of outside stakeholders is absolutely crucial to VA’s success, and these bills would help facilitate more of that. H.R. 6435 allows vital third party oversight of VA facilities, and the CHIP IN for Vets Act would broaden the pool of resources available to VA for its infrastructure needs. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in passing these bills and urge the Senate to consider them without delay,” Miller said in a statement.
S. 3076 now awaits the president’s signature, while the other bills await consideration by the Senate.