WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin applauded action by the U.S. House of Representatives to unanimously pass legislation that will improve veterans’ access to health care, disability benefits, education and homelessness assistance, among other important benefits for our nation’s veterans.
“After two decade-long wars, our veterans and their families are facing many difficult challenges,” said Senator Baldwin. “This comprehensive, bipartisan, bicameral veterans package contains over 70 provisions that will reform and improve the services and benefits provided to our veterans. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this legislation as soon as possible so that we can bring much needed changes to the VA.”
The Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R.6416) includes 76 provisions that address a variety of veterans’ services that are in need of reform or improvement. It incorporates language from a number of previously introduced House and Senate bills, including several provisions from the Veterans First Act, which unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in May 2016.
Following Tuesday’s unanimous House passage, the measure now comes to the Senate for a vote.
Specifically, the H.R.6416 will:
- Streamline the disability compensation process for veterans and their families to more easily obtain benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA);
- Expand the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims from seven judges to nine, in order to help address the large backlog of veterans’ appeals;
- 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 VA contract assistance programs and require the Department of Labor to conduct a five-year study on job counseling, training, and placement service for veterans;
- Make improvements to the VA’s health care services and benefits, specifically:
- 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 on the Veterans Health Administration’s provision of hospital care, medical services and nursing home care;
- Enhancing the qualification criteria to make it easier to hire qualified mental health care professionals;
- Expanding research on potential health effects from toxic exposure to veterans and their descendants.
- Increase access to benefits for homeless veterans.
The measure 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.
A section-by-section summary of the H.R.6416 is available here.