Q. What provisions are included in the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 (S.1950), and is The American Legion supporting them?
A: The short answer is, yes, The American Legion supports passage of the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.
The bill contains 135 provisions (separate bills that have been combined into one vehicle). There are provisions that we support because we had something to do with writing them, and some provisions we aren't too crazy about. But the provisions that we wouldn't otherwise endorse, like the establishment of different studies and commissions, aren't egregious enough to be deal-breakers.
The provisions we support are very powerful and many of them were written with our guidance and assistance. Some of the provisions (with section numbers) we are specifically interested in seeing enacted are:
201 – Require schools that participate in the GI Bill program to offer in-state tuition to veterans
325 – Require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to report infectious disease outbreaks to local authorities
327 – Improve rural healthcare access for veterans
328 – Improve the VA telemedicine program
331 – Support for alternative medicines at VA
362 – Increased support for Military Sexual Trauma victims
381 – Immediate authorization for the group of Community Based Outreach Clinics (CBOCs) that are currently unfunded due to Congressional Budget Office scoring conflicts
401 – Extend the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP)
701 – Increase VA program awareness
The Legion also supports provisions of the bill that are associated with the above.
The American Legion also appreciates the many areas in which this bill addresses needed attention regarding Military Sexual Trauma counseling, additional training and assistance for Traumatic Brain Injury victims, improvements and much-needed updates to the Dependency and Indemnification Compensation program, VA's Work-Study program, and its On-the-Job Training program.
Additionally, the Legion fully supports section 801, which repeals harmful effects of the Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2013 that impose an unfair tax on military retirees below the age of 63, by reducing their Cost of Living Allowance by 1 percent each year for a decade.
The Legion fully supports the provision in Section 302 that would open VA health-care access to all priority groups, and looks forward to working closely with Congress and VA on a practical implementation plan that addresses co-pay schedules, premiums, and prescription drug costs.
The American Legion recognizes that there is still much work to be done in many of these areas, and the bill still needs to pass the Senate, then the House. If signed into law, the Legion will start working closely with VA on implementation strategies.
There will undoubtedly be a lot of controversy surrounding a bill of this magnitude, and one of the questions will be how this bill gets paid for. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. (who introduced S.1950) has suggested that money currently used to fund overseas deployment activities will no longer be needed as the United States withdraws from the Middle East, and that monies previously budgeted for can now be diverted toward caring for veterans. This is a controversial recommendation, and we are waiting until the Senate and House return from their recess next Tuesday to see how that will ultimately play out.
Finally – this bill addresses several high priority issues for The American Legion, like repealing the 1 percent retiree COLA provision, funding the stalled CBOCs for the VA, increasing access to health care for veterans at VA, employment and education fixes, and other programs that are important to us.
Louis J. Celli, Jr.
Director, Legislative Division