Lance Cpl. Mario MedenaValdez, a water support technician with 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, explains how to use the Tactical Water Purification System during a training exercise at Camp Lejeune, N.C. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

House breaks veterans bill log jam

Military families who lived at Camp Lejeune from 1957 to 1987 may soon receive Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care for cancers and other illnesses linked to poisonous substances in the Marine Corps training base’s drinking water.

The Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 (H.R. 1627) passed the U.S. House of Representatives by unanimous vote on July 31. Besides aiding Camp Lejeune families, the measure includes several other measures backed by The American Legion.

If enacted, H.R. 1627 would:

Streamline VA’s disabilities claims process by waiving the review of new evidence presented to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, allowing signatories for veterans to sign and file claims, and requiring claims processors to make at least two attempts to assist veterans in obtaining relevant records, including private medical records.

• Improve VA health care for rural veterans by waiving co-payments for those who use telehealth care, and establishing VA rural health resource centers to better-accommodate the health-care needs of rural veterans. In its 2012 report on rural health care, The American Legion recommended that VA should "invest in more telehealth capabilities, dependent on the influx of veterans from (Iraq and Afghanistan)."

• Create new measures to prevent sexual assaults at VA facilities from going unreported and unpunished. In 2011, the Government Accountability Office determined that VA had inadequate tracking and reporting procedures in place for such assaults.

• Require VA to review and revise its skills and competency thresholds for Veterans Benefits Administration employees, ensuring that claims for compensation and pensions are not affected by incompetent workers, and that appropriate personnel actions are enforced.

• Require the Department of Labor to publish the records of government contractors in hiring veterans. In addition, VA would establish a "VetStar" program recognizing companies that have made significant contributions to veterans employment.

• Prohibit banks from foreclosing on the homes of military families for one full year after military service is completed (current time period is nine months).

• Provide funding for new construction of transitional housing for homeless veterans, and an increase in funding from $100 million to $300 million for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program – the only federal, veteran-specific program that offers rapid re-housing and prevention resources to community providers.

• Reauthorize the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program ($50 million in funding) and the Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program ($250 million in funding), and expand the VA’s Special Needs Grant Program to include male homeless veterans with minor dependents.

• Improve health-care access for veterans through more tele-consultation capabilities, and allowing service dogs into VA facilities, which had previously been banned. Traumatic brain injury patients would benefit from expanded rehabilitation and reintegration services to increase their independence and quality of life. VA also would provides treatment and rehabilitation services to homeless veterans who do not suffer from serious mental illness.

• Limit grave site reservations at Arlington National Cemetery to one, because the cemetery is running out of space. Protesters at military funerals will be punished by criminal or civil action if they violate restrictions placed on their activities.

The measure now moves to the White House for signing by President Obama.