The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
BY H. AVERY TAYLOR, CHAIR, VVA
GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE,
WITH VVA GOVERNMENT RELATIONS STAFF
During each session of Congress,
several thousand bills are introduced. Most never make it very
far into the legislative process of issue development, committee
hearings, debate, compromise, or final mark up leading to
reporting a bill to the floor of either the Senate or the House
for a vote in one chamber, never mind enactment of a bill into
law under the signature of the President. Scores of these bills
directly address issues of concern to veterans. In this space,
we will offer a rundown of relevant legislation that warrants
our support - or opposition. Additional information about these
bills can be found at the
VVA Legislative Action Center and at
H.R. 2433, Health Care for Veterans of Project 112/Project
SHAD Act of 2003. Introduced in June by Rep. Ciro Rodriguez
(D-TX) for himself and Rep. Rob Simmons (R-CT), this bill
received bipartisan support and was passed by voice vote in the
House in September. The bill would authorize the Secretary of
Veterans Affairs to provide veterans who participated in certain
Department of Defense chemical and biological warfare testing
with health care for illnesses they may have incurred without
requirement for proof of service-connection.
In the Senate, a companion bill, S. 1694 was introduced
by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and referred to the Committee on
Veterans' Affairs. The Senator attended the SHAD reunion in June
in Topeka and was moved by what he heard and learned.
VVA strongly supports this legislation, which would provide a
modicum of justice to veterans who were tested with chemical and
biological agents, simulants, and decontaminants from1962-1973.
New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who served in Vietnam, has
long championed a bill that would establish a comprehensive
program for testing and treatment of veterans for hepatitis C.
The 108th Congress wasn't in session a week when he introduced
H.R. 73, the Veterans Comprehensive Hepatitis C Health
Care Act. In February, it was referred to the Subcommittee
on Health of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, where it has
On Veterans Day, Frelinghuysen's colleague, Sen. Jon Corzine
(D-NJ) introduced companion legislation. This bill, Corzine
said, "would fundamentally change the way the VA is addressing
the growing hepatitis C epidemic, and would create a national
standard for testing and treating veterans with the virus."
In June, Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Holden introduced H.R. 2587
which would direct the Secretary of the Army to issue a
Combat Medevac Badge to each person who served in combat on
or after June 25, 1950 as a pilot or crew member of a helicopter
medical evacuation ambulance. The bill was referred to the House
Armed Services Committee.
One month later, Sen. Arlen Specter, also of Pennsylvania,
introduced S. 1487, similar legislation which would
require the Secretary of the Army to award the Combat Medical
Badge or another combat badge for Army helicopter medical
evacuation ambulance (Medevac) pilots and crews. The Specter
bill was referred to the Committee on Armed Services.
H.R. 1309, a bill introduced in March by Lane Evans,
Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, has
already become de facto law. The Veterans Prescription Drug
Benefits Act of 2003 would mandate that the Secretary of
Veterans Affairs establish a prescription drug benefit program
for veterans enrolled in the VA health care system who have
prescriptions for drugs and medicines ordered by a physician or
other authorized health care professional who is not an employee
of the VA, subject to the payment of any applicable premium and
co-payment. Secretary Principi has already put this program into
In May, Sen. Specter also introduced S. 1132, the
Veterans' Survivors Benefits Enhancements Act of 2003 on
behalf of himself and two colleagues, Jim Bunning of Kentucky
and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The bill would provide
benefits for children of Vietnam veterans and certain veterans
who saw service in Korea with spina bifida. The bill also
provides for expanded educational assistance and insurance
benefits for survivors, and additional compensation for
surviving spouses with dependent children. In October, the bill
was placed on the legislative calendar for discussion on the
floor of the Senate. A similar bill, H.R. 2297, was
introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, Chairman of the House Veterans
Also in the House, Rep. Lane Evans was the lead sponsor of
H.R. 533, the Agent Orange Veterans' Disabled Children's
Benefits Act of 2003, which would provide benefits to any
individual who has spina bifida and is the natural child of a
veteran who, while in military service, was exposed to an
herbicide. Introduced in February, subcommittee hearings were
held in April.
Another piece of legislation that would assist surviving spouses
is S. 249, introduced in January by Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton, (D-NY) for herself and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).
This bill would mandate that remarriage of the surviving spouse
of a deceased veteran after age 55 shall not terminate
dependency and indemnity compensation. In July, the Committee on
Veterans' Affairs held hearings on the bill. Similar language
appears in H.R. 2297.
Chairman Smith introduced in May H.R. 1683, the
Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2003
which would increase the rates of compensation for veterans with
service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and
indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled
veterans. This bill was referred to the Senate Committee on
Veterans' Affairs as S.1131. In essence, this is the
cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, increase adjusted at the
beginning of every December.
Companion bills that would authorize special monthly
compensation to former POWs were introduced in the House (H.R.
850, by Rep. Mike Simpson, Republican of Idaho) and the Senate
(S. 1239, by Sen. Larry Craig, also an Idaho Republican). VVA
supported the spirit of the bills but faulted provisions that
could strip ex-POWs of this compensation should they have an
alcohol- or drug-related disability.
One bill VVA is not thrilled with is H.R. 2518, the
Veterans Affairs Reorganization Act of 2003, introduced in
June by Chairman Smith and referred to the Veterans' Affairs
Committee in July. One provision calls for the transfer of the
Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program to the VA from the
Department of Labor. Another would call for the management by
the Secretary of Veterans Affairs of the Military Personnel
Records facility of the National Personnel Records Center in St.
Louis. Neither of these shifts, VVA believes, will increase
efficiency; adding to the bureaucratic portfolio of the VA will
likely have the opposite effect.
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
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.
Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) in May introduced 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:
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 Actintroduced 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.
C make permanent the State Cemetery Grants Program;
C 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;
C add cirrhosis as a presumed service-connected disability for
C 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
C make permanent the VA home loan program for members of the
Selected Reserve; and
C 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.
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