Legion joins with others to call for swift passage of Dole Act 

Legion joins with others to call for swift passage of Dole Act 

The American Legion was one of several veteran service organizations who gathered in Washington, D.C., today to urge passage of H.R. 8371, the Senator Elizabeth Dole 21st Century Veterans Healthcare and Benefits Improvement Act.

Chanin Nuntavong, executive director of The American Legion’s Government Affairs Office in Washington, D.C., joined with former Sen. Dole, as well as representatives from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Wounded Warrior Project, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Military Officers Association of America and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. All of the participants called for passage of H.R. 8371, with Nuntavong opening his remarks focused on how the legislation can benefit rural veterans.

Nuntavong shared the story of Dan and Jeri McKeaney, who were in a motorcycle accident while riding with the local chapter of their Marine Riders Group. Both were transported to a hospital by Emergency Air Medical Services (EMS), which Dan credited with saving his life.

“He credits the extraordinary pre-hospital care from the EMS team and believes he's alive today because of them,” Nuntavong said. “Section 143 (of the bill) ensures that rural air ambulance services receive the funding they need to continue offering these vital, lifesaving services.

“This bill will also strengthen rural America. Rural veterans encounter distinct challenges in accessing healthcare. In an emergency, every minute counts, which is why Emergency Air Medical Services can make the difference between life and death.”

Other key provisions of the Senator Elizabeth Dole 21st Century Veterans Healthcare and Benefits Improvement Act include:

·         Increasing Home-Based Care Resources. Expands access to home- and community-based services at every VA medical center, which would provide severely ill and aging veterans with more and better options to receive their care at home rather than in institutions.

·         Improving Access to Care. Helps ensure that decisions between veterans and their VA providers about seeking care in the community are honored. Enhances access to critical residential rehabilitation treatment programs for mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

·         Honoring the Fallen. Expands education benefits for surviving families. Removes archaic language that penalizes surviving spouses from moving forward after their loss.

·         Supporting Homeless Veterans. Raises the grant and per-diem rate for veteran homelessness providers who partner with VA and provide rideshares to veterans for medical, housing and employment appointments and ensure veterans can get the resources they need to be lifted out of homelessness.

·         Caring for Caregivers. Creates mental health care grants for certain caregivers who become strained by the demands of providing help and support to veterans with heightened needs. Provides a pathway to advocacy for organizations to provide veteran families support navigating VA’s caregiver and long-term care services.

“We also advocate for veterans' right to choose where they spend their final days,” Nuntavong said. “Currently, the VA provides burial support only if the veteran passes on VA property. Section 30, known as Gerald’s Law, aims to extend this benefit to veterans who wish to spend their remaining time at home. Named after Gerald Elliott, a proud Legionnaire, this section honors his story.

“Gerald, like many veterans, faced the choice between spending his final days in a hospital or at home with his family. He chose home, but due to an obscure federal regulation, his family did not receive VA support. This change seeks to rectify such situations, ensuring that all veterans and their families receive the support they deserve.”

Nuntavong also pointed out the education and employment component of H.R. 8371 and the negative impact of failing to pass the legislation. “H.R. 8371 puts veterans to work,” he said. “In the past five years, 14,000 women and men have graduated from the Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET-TEC) program.  VET-TEC has provided these veterans with the skills and knowledge to compete for in-demand tech sector careers. In addition, graduates reported salaries that can support them and their families. Without Section 102, VET-TEC would be shuttered.”

Dole also spoke, calling for a sense of urgency from Congress. “Like all bipartisan initiatives, each side was asked to make some sacrifices. Now, the time has come to move this bill forward and deliver all its promises,” she said. “The resources, reforms and improvements contained in this legislation are precisely the types of advances that only Congress can provide. And I don’t see how we can truly care for our veteran community if we wait another day to get it passed.

“For all those who have served and all those considering service in the future, this is a moment to show that we can put politics aside, even when it’s an election year, and come together to perform a most noble responsibility: to care for all who have borne the battle. Bring this bill to the floor now.”

Nuntavong closed by offering a frank message about the importance of passing H.R. 8371. “If the Senator Elizabeth Dole 21st Century Veterans Healthcare and Benefits Improvement Act is not passed, all the programs we have discussed today are in jeopardy,” he said. “Veterans and their families and caregivers will see reduced health-care services and reduced employment opportunities.”

American Legion Family members wanting to contact their members of Congress to urge passage of H.R. 8371 can do so here