Dec 10 2015
WASHINGTON – The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday advanced key legislative priorities aimed at improving veterans’ benefits as part of legislation introduced by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) to combat veteran homelessness.
The Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program (HVRP) Clarification and Reauthorization Act, introduced by Boozman and Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), would reauthorize current veteran homelessness programs and clarify qualifications for existing housing assistance benefits.
“Committee approval of this legislation is a great step toward ending the cycle of homelessness. I am encouraged by the support of the committee and will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure it becomes law. Enacting long-term programs that provide the resources, tools and training our veterans earned will help eliminate veteran homelessness,” Boozman said.
The Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program (HVRP) Clarification and Reauthorization Act would:
- Extend veteran reintegration programs for five years
- Extend the homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children reintegration program for five years.
- Clarify that veterans participating in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency’s Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program are also eligible for HVRP.
- Clarify that American Indians participating in Native American housing assistance program are also eligible to participate in HVRP.
The committee amended the legislation to add a number of measures to help veterans including the GI Bill Fairness Act introduced by Boozman and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). This bill would ensure that members of the Guard or Reserve who are wounded in combat are eligible for the same GI Bill benefits as active duty members of the military.
“Denying wounded Guard and Reserve members the benefits they earned is unjust. This measure will provide equal treatment and ensure they receive the benefits they earned for their service and sacrifice to our country,” Boozman said.
The bill also includes additional provisions related to veteran homelessness, benefits, education, opioid safety, caregiver services and health care including:
- Building on existing homeless veteran programs to increase the availability of housing for homeless veterans and helping with transition to permanent housing. This provision was included in the Homeless Veterans Prevention Act of 2015, legislation introduced by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
- Expanding caregiver support services and eligibility for programs. This language is incorporated from the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2015 introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
- Allowing VA Medical Centers to implement flexible physician and physician assistant work schedules to match private sector practices. This language was introduced by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in The Department of Veterans Affairs Emergency Medical Staffing Recruitment and Retention Act.
- Eliminating the need for survivors or spouses of deceased or totally and permanently disabled veterans to file a formal claim before the VA settles and pays claims for survivor benefits. Senator Hirono authored this language in The Veterans’ Survivors Claims Processing Automation Act.
- Expanding eligibility for the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program to help students with out-of-pocket education expenses higher than the Post 9/11 GI Bill allowance. This language was introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) in the Fry Scholarship Enhancement Act of 2015.
- Providing safer and more effective pain management services to veterans. This language incorporates provisions in the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act introduced by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Shelley Moore Capito (D-WV).
- Reducing workforce issues that impact veterans’ access to care. This language was introduced by Senator Tester in the Delivering Opportunities for Care and Services for Veterans Act.
- Making permanent the temporary increase in number of judges presiding over veterans’ claims cases. This legislation was introduced by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).
- Improving accountability at VA to ensure whistleblowers are protected. This language was adopted from the Department of Veterans Affairs Equitable Employee Accountability Act of 2015 introduced by Senator Blumenthal.
- Modernizing existing VA housing programs for homeless and at-risk veterans. This language was introduced by Senators Blumenthal, Brown, Hirono and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Veteran Housing Stability Act of 2015.
- Ensuring Post 9/11 GI Bill education benefits are used at accredited institutions and programs. This provision was adopted from the Career-Ready Student Veterans Act of 2015, legislation introduced by Senators Blumenthal and Tillis.
- Improving veterans’ access to long term care by allowing VA to enter into provider agreements with qualified health care and extended care facilities. This language was introduced by Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Manchin in the Veterans Access to Long Term Care and Health Services Act.
- Increasing the special monthly pension for living Medal of Honor recipients. This language was introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
- Increasing the number of health professionals at VA by providing veterans who served as medics in the Armed Forces the opportunity to received additional training to become a Physician Assistant. Senator Tester introduced this language in the Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act of 2015.
- Restoring Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to student veterans affected by the permanent closure of certain educational institutions. This legislation was introduced by Senators Blumenthal and Tillis in the Department of Veterans Education Relief and Restoration Act of 2015.