State lawmakers from around the country have been working on a comprehensive plan to tackle some of the many problems facing veterans: cost of living, home loans, access to healthcare and burial costs.
Cost of living adjustment
In June, Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, introduced a bill called the “Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act” in an effort to increase veteran disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The bill, co-sponsored by all the members of the United States Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC) introduces:
- An increased rate of VA disability compensation
- Dependent compensation for Gold Star families
- A clothing allowance for veterans.
Each of these increases would be based on the percentage used to raise Social Security benefits. The increase goes into effect Dec. 1, 2019, if the legislation passes the Senate and House and gains a presidential signature.
While it doesn’t establish automatic cost-of-living increases, this bill does provide a boost in the benefits received by veterans and their families for another year.
Home loan fee refunds
Tester and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., also introduced a bill to ensure VA repays the thousands of disabled veterans for home loan fees wrongfully charged.
An Inspector General report revealed that the VA wrongly charged nearly 73,000 disabled veterans $286.4 million in home loan fees and the VA has known it owes those veterans the money since at least 2014.
The bill would require VA to:
- Report to Congress with a plan to ID all of the veterans wrongfully charged a fee, and a timeline to refund them
- Develop an automated process for refunds to avoid the problem in the future
- Restricts VA from requiring a veteran to need to request a refund
- Develop a plan within three months to process the refunds, among other requirements
Care for women veterans
Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., introduced the Caring for Women Veterans Act, establishing an annual VA report to ensure that women veterans receive quality healthcare from VA hospitals.
The bill specifically directs the VA to submit an annual report to Congress on the gender-specific care available at VA facilities, to provide more information on the care women receive or don’t.
The report will be required to include:
- Locations where women access VA care, including the number of women veterans in each state and how many have gotten care at each VA
- How VA can model its care for women veterans based on private hospitals
- Recommendations for hospital and clinic improvements and research on how to raise money for those improvements
- The number of women’s health centers, care teams, OBGYNs and women’s health providers by the facility
- The number of doctors and other providers with qualifications to treat women’s health conditions
Another bill from Boozman and Tester is intended to help state cemeteries meet federal standards for veteran burials.
The bill would improve access to training to ensure cemeteries funded by VA grants to maintain the standard necessary for veterans to rest thereby allowing VA to cover the cost for employees to travel to that training.