The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2004
GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
 
 

Legislative Roundup

BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFF

In an attempt to legislate down the long waits for appointments experienced by too many veterans, Florida Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite introduced in September the Veterans Timely Access to Health Care Act. Subcommittee hearings have already been held on the bill, H.R. 3094, which would make the standard for a veteran seeking primary care from the VA 30 days from the date the veteran initially contacted the VA. Care would be rendered at the appropriate VA medical center or at non-VA facilities should the VAMC be unable to accommodate the veteran within the specified time frame.

VVA testified in September before the Committee on Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health in support of this bill.

The goal of another piece of legislation, H.R. 2379, to improve access to health care for veterans residing in rural areas, faces a struggle. Language in the bill, introduced by Nebraska Rep. Tom Osborne, the Rural Veterans Access to Care Act of 2003 attempts to curb what some see as discrimination in delivery of VA health care services to veterans residing in rural areas.

The problems these bills address are at least in part a result of inadequate resources. The Administration request for each veteran using a VA medical facility is only 60 cents on the dollar as compared to a Medicare patient. Until the veterans health care funding base in restored, admirable solutions such as those offered by Reps. Osborne and Brown-Waite cannot have the desired effect in restoring equity and reasonable standards for care at the VA.

Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell introduced in May S. 1092, the National War Permanent Tribute Historical Database Act. A companion bill was introduced in the House by his Democratic colleague, Rep. Mark Udall. This legislation, which was referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, would authorize the establishment of a national database for purposes of identifying, locating, and cataloging the many memorials and permanent tributes to America's veterans.

Sen. Campbell is also the author of S. 330, a bill which calls for severe criminal penalties for anyone who willfully injures or destroys, or attempts to injure or destroy, any structure, plaque, statue, or other monument on public property commemorating service in the Armed Forces. A related bill, H.R. 2076, sponsored by Rep. Christopher John of Louisiana, called for grants to repair veterans memorials. In May, these bills became Public Law 108-29.

Facets of several of the aforementioned bills have been rolled into the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003. H.R. 2297 passed in the House in October by 399-0; its Senate companion, S. 1132, passed in the Senate on the last day of October by unanimous consent. If signed into law by the President, the act would:

  • make permanent the State Cemetery Grants Program;

  • increase the specially adapted automobile grant from $9,000 to $11,000, increase the specially adapted housing grant from $48,000 to $50,000 for the most severely disabled veterans and from $9,350 to $10,000 for other disabled veterans;

  • add cirrhosis as a presumed service-connected disability for ex-POWs;

  • eliminate the requirement that an ex-POW must have been held in captivity for at least 30 days in order to qualify for presumption of service-connection for several specific disabilities;

  • make permanent the VA home loan program for members of the Selected Reserve; and

  • expand eligibility for benefits to children born with spina bifida of veterans who served near the demilitarized zone in Korea between October 1, 1967 and May 7, 1975.

Finally, several bills have been introduced with a common theme and goal: to ensure adequate funding for veterans health care. These include S.50, introduced by Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota; H.R. 2475, the Veterans Health Care Full Funding Act, introduced by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith; H.R. 2318, the Assured Funding for Veterans Health Care Act of 2003, introduced by Rep. Lane Evans, Ranking Member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee. It is the position of VVA that we must restore the funding base to at least parity with recipients of Medicare and then move to ensure that reasonable increases match increases caused by medical inflation and greater demand on the system.

   

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