Legion lends support to huge vet benefits bill

Legion lends support to huge vet benefits bill
American Legion Legislative Director Louis Celli addresses the media at Feb. 4 press conference focused on the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014. (Photo by Craig Roberts)

The American Legion has declared its "full support" of a newly introduced and massive U.S. Senate bill that would, in the words of its subtitle, "improve the provision of medical services and benefits to veterans."

Legion backing of the "Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014" was voiced on Feb. 4 by Legion Legislative Division director Lou Celli at a Capitol Hill press conference hosted by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Sanders chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and sponsored the proposed legislation.

The 352-page Act addresses a great number of concerns to veterans, military personnel and their families. If enacted, the bill would, among other things, extend VA physical and mental health care to include a number of "alternative medicine" treatment modalities and expand dental care. It would also fund pending leases to 27 VA medical facilities, mostly community-based outpatient centers (CBOCs). Higher -ducation benefits for active-duty servicemembers and veterans would also be expanded and, under a provision that replicates terms of the "GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act" – passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 3 – grant in-state tuition eligibility to student veterans pursuing courses at state universities and colleges.

The bill also lengthens the term of automatic VA medical care for returning veterans from five to 10 years, addresses the sometimes criticized treatment (or lack thereof) of military sexual trauma victims and extends caregiver benefits to all military families. Veterans employment and judicial matters are also considered in the bill, as are benefits claims backlog issues. The act would also abolish the controversial COLA (cost of living adjustment) limits placed on military pensions, though in a pre-press conference gathering Sanders characterized the reversal of the COLA limits as essentially a "done deal." "We may address it this week…or next, but the COLA decreases WILL be reversed," he said.

Sanders spoke briefly at the outset of the press conference. Flanked by representatives of about a dozen veteran and military service organizations, Sanders made an emotionally based appeal for passage of the big bill. "If there is one thing I have learned, (it) is that the cost of war is a lot greater than most people think," he said. "I think it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. We’re not going to bring back the dead, we’re not going to bring back arms and legs, but we do have a moral obligation (to pass this bill)."

The Vermont senator then turned the floor over to several spokespersons from the veteran and military support groups. Among them was Celli, who endorsed provisions in the act that would bolster veteran employment, noting that "veterans unemployment has now been lowered to 5.5 percent from 7.7 percent...as a result of bills passed by Congress that the Legion supported and worked on at times." Celli also mentioned the Legion’s labors on the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act and attendant support of the Senate version contained in Sanders’ bill. He concluded by saying that, "The American Legion is very proud to have worked with (the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs), and we fully support this bill."

Near the conclusion of the press conference, a small number of reporters quizzed Sanders briefly. One journalist’s question concerned funding of the great number of programs contained in the bill. Sanders proposed offsetting the cost of by employing Overseas Contingency Operations funds. These are the monies used to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another reporter asked if the sheer size and scope of the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act might jeopardize its passage in the Senate and, subsequently, in the House. Sanders declared that, in his view, there is nothing in the bill that can be reasonably objected to but, "if anyone comes to me with good ideas (about that), I’ll certainly listen."

In answer to another press query, Sanders indicated that he will be assertively seeking bipartisan support. This effort will include a meeting shortly with the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Rep. Jeff Miller, with whom Sanders says "I have a pretty good relationship."

Toward the end of the press briefing, Sanders again pitched the act, large as it is, by saying "if the people knew of the provisions in this bill, all Americans would overwhelmingly support it."

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Mac Daddy

February 13, 2014 - 4:15pm

There are two types of Disabled Vets. One type suffers a unique ailment shared by few other Vets. This Vet’s compensation will most likely be reasonable with abundant treatment options and a positive attitude towards the VA. For the rest of us, we suffer the most common ailments and find compensation ridiculously low, restricted to 20% or less, due to the sheer volume of Vets suffering the same things. Pay one and they have to pay us all. But the VA can only spend each year what Congress allocates. For Veterans there is never an automatic increase in spending as there is when Trillions are spent automatically each year on redistribution gimmicks. Congress’s fascination with courting the poor with big government and free money for votes leaves Veterans and our supporting Federal organizations unable to reasonably compensate and treat the vast majority of Vets suffering the most common Service Connected disabilities. If we vote in more Vets we may find our livelihood taken more seriously on Capitol Hill.

Thomas Ferelli

February 13, 2014 - 6:19pm

I whole heartedly agree with you. I am 10% connected due to a profound hearing loss. I have only hearing in one ear (with a hearing aid) and as the saying at the VA goes: The other is just along for the ride. 10% is the maximum allowable by law, but it affects my everyday living. I think it is a shame that for example: a person with "sleeping disorder" or gets hurt (shoulder/knee) playing softball while on active duty would qualify for 30% or more compensation....

SCU

February 12, 2014 - 4:50pm

My husband was a 100 % and it took years to get it they dragged their feet all the way, but finally he did get it only to die four years later. To receive help from DIC you need to be at 100% for ten years how fair is that for someone who was in WW11 and Korea he was totally disabled in a wheel. They did take good care of him in the end

Dave Mura

February 10, 2014 - 3:10pm

I agree with Mark. I am unfortunate enough to be assigned to the Fort Wayne Indiana VA Hospital and it is by far the worst VA hospital I have ever been to. Earlier last year I had to go to their emergency room because one of the VA doctors gave me medicine that nearly made me bleed to death. The VA couldn't care for me because their Critical Care Unit was closed. They sent me by ambulance to a local hospital where I stayed for a week. Months later I started to receive bills from the private hospital because the VA refused to pay, even though they stated in many of my calls to them that they would. The bills eventually went to collections and one medical department sued me. I finally had to call Washington DC to voice my concerns. It took almost a year to get this resolved and paid by the VA. Now I need a prostate exam but the VA doctors are unwilling to do one. I have been waiting now for three months for a referral to a non-government agency. The VA DOES NOT CARE about the veteran.

Bob Mobley

February 10, 2014 - 1:50pm

I wish success for this bill becoming law, but, have doubt that our Corporate owned politicians will see fit to pas it. I would have also liked to see it fix the unfair practice of still not paying Concurrent Receipt to disabled vets with low disability ratings. All disabled veterans, regardless of percentage of disability should not have a dollar for dollar offset. Also, I would have loved to see the bill contain a fix for the widows of those who die from service related causes by fixing the offset between the Survivor Benefit Program (SBP) and the VA Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Before Congress starts cutting earned entitlements, they need to start paying them first. Thank you Senator Sanders for your continue attempts to correct the injustices imposed on those who served.

Brett A. Barnett

February 8, 2014 - 2:39pm

Well have to say if you give up the battle with the VA you will lose. It has taken me a total of about 10 years to get the VA to recognize my problems were service related. The backlog is supposed to be getting better but don't see it that way. I have a guy I work with that was wounded twice on two different deployments who walks with a cane and has been waiting for 4 years to get his rating. What are these people waiting for? I only hope that the general public gets fed up with Obama and his cronies and votes them all out of office.

Anonymous

February 8, 2014 - 9:35am

can non-combat Vietnam Era Vets use VA clinic's and benefit who served in Germany or other places oversea's 1968-1970

Ann Marie Roberts

February 10, 2014 - 1:24pm

Yes, they can. My brother did. He to at this time and later served in Germany. thanks for asking. Ann Roberts Veteran-Navy-(1968-1970)

Richard Herbon

February 7, 2014 - 7:51pm

I have been receiving care from the VA for almost 47 years. I have had a total of 13 surgeries, and I can't say enough about the VA. They are absolutely wonderful and they DO care about the veterans!I am a Life member of American Legion,VFW,DAV and Viet Now. All these organizations work with the veterans.May God bless the Doctors and nurses that try their very best.

Roger Anderson

February 7, 2014 - 5:08pm

I have been going to the va at West Palm Beach,Florida for over ten years and could not ask for better care.Thay have always gone above and beyond for me.Dr. Most Is the most careing Doc.you could ask for as is her whole team.

jay obermeyer

February 7, 2014 - 9:55am

as a veteran and member of various veterans post , i visit many vets in need and know the problem is the system. We need people running these programs who know the problems and are willing to get the job done.All current and past vets when asked we get the job done no matter what the task.Keep the pressure on. Jay O

Bill Barham

February 6, 2014 - 11:45pm

It took me a long, long to get any sort of help from the VA. The hard part is knowing what to do and when to do it. I finally got a lot of help from a Veteran Advocate from the State of Maryland and am now considered 90% disabled. I get my glasses and Diabetes taken care of but for anything else I have to pay. Now about a year ago I started having problems with my stomach: it would swell up with fluid and I had to keep going to the hospital to get that fluid taken out. It was getting serious and one time they drained out almost 19 lbs. Finally they put me through a battery of tests and found I had cirrhosis of the liver and it wasn't working at all. On the Doctor's report they wrote down "Cirrhosis, non-alcohol, non-drugs, causal reason's unknown! The Doctor's all opine that like the diabetes, this is probably something from when I was in Viet Nam. I can't get the VA to listen however. Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. I hope all of you get your claims handled quickly and properly. Bill

Mark

February 6, 2014 - 9:41pm

The VA doesn't care about us, they cut all my medications that were helping me, I have to wait for hours to be seen, now I can't drive far to the VA, have asked them for a special form to get treatment from a private doctor it's been years and they ignore me, I'm just one less person they have to worry with. We are always promised crap and with this administration we get nothing. We serve our country get injured and can't even get taken care of. They won't even pay for the surgery I had to have and it was all service related, it's been 5 years the bill is still outstanding even after writing letters to them

Alex14

February 6, 2014 - 9:16pm

very confusing we were promised all these thing and like the military you have all most beg for every thing as service connected 100% er I hope I I can bitch when I'm 63 and basically dying when it's happening to you maybe then you'll understand

John Pahl

February 6, 2014 - 7:22pm

Some people don't know or understand the past. As a war vet, I waited almost 50 years for good benefits, and even these proposed are awesome ! The American Legion, The VFW and the Amvets (I'm a Life Member of those) are huge players in getting what we deserve. Complaining .. ever write your congressman or senator, or even join a vet's organization and get involved ? Then don't bitch !

Mark

February 6, 2014 - 9:45pm

I have wrote my congressman and he wrote back saying if there is anything else I can do let me know, but yet he did nothing but make a phone call, and nothing came of it, I am probably labeled as a complaining vet. You must be one of the lucky ones, but all the vets I know, are not treated well at all, even myself, and alot of us vets don't have the patience anymore to deal with all this paperwork to get help, and the government knows it, and we can't afford an attorney, and yes I belong to groups, and they are so overwhelmed with trying to help us gets that time frame is very long.

Michael Farrell

February 6, 2014 - 4:34pm

Without concurrent receipt, Veterans still screwed.

Bill Laput

March 12, 2014 - 9:38pm

Dear Mike,thank you for taking up the subject of concurrent receipt. I live in the communist state of Conn.I called my US Senator and his office said that it would cost to much. I don't care what he hell his office said,all's I know is our government should be careful when looking for men and women to fight there next war [ no benefits, no G.I.'s-period].

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