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

March/April 2004
GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
 
 

Legislative Roundup

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

One of the criticisms of the conduct of the current war in Iraq is the restriction of access and the lack of public recognition of America's KIAs. A Concurrent Resolution sponsored by Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) would change this short-sighted policy.

HRC 384 calls for the removal of all restrictions from the public, the press, and military families in mourning that would prohibit their presence at the arrival at military installations in the United States or overseas of the remains of those members of the armed forces who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, with the assurance that family requests for privacy will be respected.  VVA strongly favors this resolution.

H.R. 3947, introduced by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), would provide that monetary benefits paid to veterans by states and municipalities be excluded from consideration as income for purposes of pension benefits paid by the VA. VVA strongly favors this measure.

H.R. 3849 would provide permanent authority for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to continue to operate a program to provide counseling and treatment for veterans who, while in military service, experienced sexual trauma or sexual harassment. It was introduced by Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Tex.). VVA strongly favors this bill.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) introduced legislation that would increase services and benefits to members of the National Guard and Reserves when they are called to service. Murray's bill, S. 2068, dubbed the Guard and Reserve Enhanced Benefits Act of 2004, would provide expanded health care, family assistance, education, and financial benefits to help ease the burden on these soldiers and their families.

According to the Pentagon, more than 194,000 Guard and Reservists currently serve on active duty. Guard and Reservists make up almost 40 percent of the total American force in Iraq.

Provisions of Sen. Murray's legislation, S. 2068, would extend the current Family and Medical Leave Act protections to the spouses of Guard and Reservists called to extended active duty and  provide child-care assistance grants to parents or guardians of dependents of Guard and Reservists called to active duty. The bill would expand the GI bill for Guard and Reservists who are called to active duty for 12 consecutive months or 24 months out of a 60-month period.

Other provisions would allow employers to claim up to $12,000 in tax credits for the pay differential of Guard and Reserve employees and would also require the federal
government to cover the pay differential for federal employees called to active duty. VVA  favors this bill.

Another bill that would benefit Reservists called to active duty is S. 2099, which would  provide entitlement to educational assistance under the Montgomery GI Bill for members of the Selected Reserve who serve more than two years of active duty in any five-year period. The bill was introduced by Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) and is co-sponsored by Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).

H.R. 3898, introduced by Rep. Anibal Acevedo-Vila (D-P.R.), would authorize the construction of a replacement VA medical center in Puerto Rico at a site that would best  serve the needs of both veterans and Department of Defense medical beneficiaries in  Puerto Rico. VVA strongly favors this measure.

S. 2133, introduced by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), would name the VA Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, the James J. Peters Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Jim Peters, executive director of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association for 31 years, died on September 6, 2002. Thirty-two years earlier, he worked with Life magazine on an article about the deplorable conditions facing paralyzed Vietnam veterans at the old Bronx VA Hospital. The article forced the VA to build the new Bronx VAMC and to establish a stand-alone national Spinal Cord Injury Service. VVA strongly endorses this legislation.

H.R. 3777, introduced by Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.), would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into contracts with community health care providers to improve access to health care for veterans in highly rural areas. This bill was introduced to alleviate situations in which the VA facilities are geographically inaccessible to veterans in rural areas.

VA facilities are deemed geographically inaccessible in the case of a veteran whose residence is in a county with a population density of less than 7 people per square mile and is more than 75 miles from the nearest VA health care facility; is in a county with a population density of more than 7 and less than 8 people per square mile and is more than 100 miles from the nearest VA health care facility; is in a county with a population density of more than 8 and less than 9 people per square mile and is more than 125 miles from the nearest VA health care facility; or is more than 150 miles from the nearest VA health care facility.

S. 2063/H.R. 3812 would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a demonstration project to assess the feasibility and advisability of providing for priorities in the scheduling of appointments of veterans for health care through the VA. Although the VA already has a priorities system in place, this proposed legislation, introduced by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.), would evaluate the system by choosing three VISNs and monitoring their progress over a two-year period.

H.R. 485, a resolution introduced by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), would establish March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day. Why March 30? Because March 30, 1973, is thought to be the date the last Vietnam War combatant returned to American soil. There is, however, a moratorium imposed on authorizing additional commemorative days. If this resolution is successfulat present only 17 members have signed onit would fall to the President to lift the moratorium and officially recognize March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.

   

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