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Senate panel passes vets bills, but won’t release details

07/25/2013

ARMY TIMES.  JULY 24, 2013.  The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed eight bills Wednesday, but given the panel’s secretive approach, it is hard to judge the potential impact.

Chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, the committee voted for measures to improve veterans benefits and health care, provide full benefits to same-sex couples, expand programs for female veterans and the homeless, and help veterans find and keep jobs.

But following a tradition that dates back three decades, the text of the bills was not released and won’t be made available until the measures are reported to the Senate. That may not happen until fall.

The committee passed legislation that would extend the Veterans Affairs Department’s caregiver assistance program to seriously disabled service-connected veterans of all generations, but there is a question about how to pay for it. “This is expensive legislation, but so is giving tax breaks to millionaires,” said Sanders.

Two new employment programs for veterans were approved, along with improved enforcement of employment and re-employment rights protections, but no details were provided.

However, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the committee’s ranking Republican, said one provision passed by the committee requires the federal government to hire 15,000 veterans and to provide them “jobs that put them on a path to a career.”

A potentially big change in GI Bill benefits is part of one of the bills, Sanders said: Public colleges and universities could charge only in-state tuition for students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but details — such as when this would take effect — were not provided.

Sanders also mentioned provisions related to the possible over-medication of veterans being treated at VA facilities and putting stricter demands on the processing and tracking of disability claims.

Among the bills passed was S 893, to provide veterans with the same cost-of-living adjustment on Dec. 1 that goes to Social Security recipients — an amount that won’t be set until fall, and another is a female veterans and health care bill, S 131, that includes reproductive and fertility assistance for severely wounded service members and their spouses.