Senate Democrats have a long record of working to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the care and benefits they have earned through their service. Over the past several years, congressional Democrats led the effort to fill in critical funding shortfalls at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created by the previous Administration and championed the passage of the largest investment in veterans’ education since World War II. In addition, working with President Obama, Senate Democrats have taken significant action to improve and expand access to VA health care services, better meet the needs of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, enhance access to benefits for all veterans, and ensure more timely claims processing and efficient management at the VA. As we near the Memorial Day holiday, we honor the service of the men and women who have sacrificed for our country and pledge to continue our commitment to the heroes that have served and continue to serve each day.
This Fact Sheet outlines the relevant legislative initiatives Senate Democrats have advanced since the start of the 111th Congress.
Senate Democrats have worked to provide historic funding increases to ensure first-rate care and services to our nation’s veterans.
·Expanded the Rural Health Initiative and the Rural Clinic Initiative, effectively improving access to medical care for veterans in underserved rural areas;
·Ensured the VA has the resources to meet the health care needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan;
·Increased medical and prosthetic research in key areas, including mental health, traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury, burn injury, polytrauma injuries, and sensory loss;
·Funded vital long term care programs for aging veterans as well as severely wounded combat veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;
·Provided increased funding for health care and support services to assist homeless veterans, and established a new initiative to combat homelessness among our nation’s veterans;
·Expanded access to VA health care to disabled veterans earning modest incomes;
·Addressed critical maintenance and repair needs as well as new construction priorities at VA hospitals and clinics; and
·Allowed the VA to hire 1,200 new claims processors to improve the timeliness of claims processing.
Democrats worked to secure passage of landmark legislation to improve the support services and the quality of care for veterans. Last month, the Senate unanimously passed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, a bill that combines several legislative initiatives to extend benefits to the caregivers of injured veterans and to enhance vital veterans’ health care services. The bill was signed into law by the President on May 5.
Senate Democrats championed a bill to ensure timely and predictable funding for the veterans’ health care system. The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, passed by the Senate in August, ensures that funding levels for veterans’ health care will be determined one year in advance of the regular appropriations process. By reforming the current year-by-year funding process, the bill will put an end to funding delays for medical care programs for veterans and facilitate more effective budget planning at VA hospitals, allowing them to better meet veterans’ needs. Additionally, it will ensure transparency in VA funding by requiring public reports and Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits on the VA’s funding projections. In the words of President Obama, “For the VA, this means timely, sufficient and predictable funding from year to year. For VA hospitals and clinics, it means more time to budget, to recruit high-quality professionals, and to invest in new health care equipment. And most of all, for our veterans it will mean better access to the doctors and nurses and the medical care that they need: specialized care for our wounded warriors with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, and the staffing to welcome back to the VA those half-million‘Priority 8’ vets.” The President signed the bill into law on October 22, 2009.
Democrats led Senate passage of legislation to enhance benefits for veterans and their families. On October 7, 2009, the Senate unanimously adopted the Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act of 2009, to provide expanded compensation, housing, employment, education, burial, and insurance benefits to veterans and their families. Specifically, the bill included provisions to strengthen life insurance and mortgage insurance programs for disabled veterans; remove the enrollment cap on the number of veterans allowed in VA’s Independent Living Program; and ease the burden of proof on veterans seeking to establish that their disabilities are related to their service. Further, the legislation provided for retroactive payment to service members who suffered from traumatic injury while on active duty on or between October 7, 2001 and November 30, 2005– a benefit that previously was available only to those service members who were injured while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom during that time.
Democrats worked to provide $1.4 billion in reinvestment and recovery funding for VA hospital and medical facility construction and improvements. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $1.4 billion for the VA, with funding directed primarily for infrastructure repairs at existing Veterans Health Administration (VHA) hospitals and capital infrastructure needs at state VA long-term care facilities. Specifically, the bill provided: $1 billion for nonrecurring maintenance for VA medical facilities; $150 million in funding for grants and construction of state extended care facilities; $50 million for information technology systems for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA); $150 million for VBA to decrease waiting times for claims surge processors; and $50 million for the National Cemetery Administration for monument and memorial repairs. In addition to creating jobs, these investments helped the VA address critical facility maintenance and upgrade needs, improving care for veterans across the country.
Under Democratic leadership, the Senate passed a bill to ensure the value of compensation for veterans and their survivors is protected from potential inflation. The Senate passed the Veterans’Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 to ensure that inflation does not erode veterans’ benefits. The bill stipulated that, if the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an increase in inflation based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Secretary of VA would be required to increase veteran and survivor compensation by that rate. It also stated that if the CPI decreases, veteran and survivor compensation would remain at the previous year’s rate. Effective December 1, 2009, the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) would be applicable to veterans’ disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children, and additional related benefits. The President signed the bill into law on June 30, 2009.
S. Con.Res. 13.