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

December 2004
LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP
 
 

108th Congress 2nd Session Legislative Roundup

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

During the second session of the 108th Congress, veterans won some and lost some. On November 17, three key bills were sent to the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote. All were passed unanimously. They are: H.R. 3936, the Veterans Health Programs Improvement Act of 2004, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.); H.R. 2484, the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Personnel Enhancement Act of 2004, which originated in the Senate; and H.R. 2486, the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2004, originally introduced in the Senate by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Many other bills of relevance to veterans and their families that were not passed now become moot. They must be re-introduced in the 109th Congress, which begins when the new Congress is sworn in January 4.

Among other provisions, H.R. 3936 makes sexual trauma counseling a permanent facet of health care at the VA. This law also requires that the VA report to Congress no later than January 31 of each year through 2007 on waiting times for specialty care appointments, boosts the budget for funding homeless veterans grant and per diem programs by $95 million—a $20 million increase from FY04 budget—and authorizes $24 million to lease 16 VA community-based outpatient clinics.

The new law also requires the VA to report to Congress before starting new mission changes at 11 facilities under the Capital Asset Realignment Enhancement Services (CARES) plan. These facilities are the VA Medical Centers in Boston; New York City; Big Spring, Texas; Dublin, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; Louisville, Kentucky; Muskogee, Oklahoma; the outpatient clinic in Tulsa; Poplar Bluff, Missouri; Ft. Wayne, Indiana; Waco, Texas; and Walla Walla, Washington.

S. 2484 implements a three-tier pay system to improve physicians’ and dentists’ salary base, market and performance pay, and alternate work schedules for registered nurses.
Among its provisions, S. 2486 increases compensation for veterans with disabilities and gives survivors of deceased military personnel an additional $250 in monthly compensation for spouses and children under 18 for a two-year transition period; increases the maximum VA loan guarantee for a single-family residence; establishes the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims office in Washington, D.C.; and boosts assistance for apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs for veterans under the 1987 Montgomery GI Bill (P.L. 100-48) so that both servicemembers and their families are covered by laws that prohibit landlords from terminating leases of deployed service personnel.

The new law also requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to report to Congress on outreach efforts to inform members of the armed services about the benefits to which they are entitled when they leave the military.

VVA would like to thank departing Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas) for keeping sexual trauma counseling on the front burner. Many thanks to members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committees on both sides of Capitol Hill for their extraordinary bipartisan efforts to improve benefits, services, and health care for America’s veterans.

To view these bills in their entirety, visit VVA’s legislative action center at www.vva.org Click on Government Relations or go to www.thomas.loc.gov

The Government Relations Department would like to thank all VVA and AVVA members and others who have helped VVA in our legislative goals this year. We look forward to your continued support as we work with the 109th Congress.

   

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