WASHINGTON–A bipartisan, comprehensive veterans bill that includes two provisions authored by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) was unveiled during a news conference held by members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today.
The Veterans First Act aims to change the culture at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by giving department leadership at VA the tools to fire bad actors, prohibiting bonuses for employees accused of wrongdoing and instituting protections for whistleblowers. It also seeks to improve the Veterans Choice Program, enhance education benefits and fight opioid abuse among our veterans.
“A lot of hard work and tireless effort went into crafting this bill, which really will help veterans by increasing accountability at VA, enhancing services and tackling some of the biggest issues facing the veterans’ community,” Boozman said. “The fact that we can produce such a wide-ranging bill in a bipartisan way truly is a testament to how well this committee works together to put veterans first.”
Boozman said he was extremely pleased that language to improve the Veterans Choice Program was included in the Veterans First Act.
“This will resolve some of the issues that I’ve heard from Arkansas veterans who rely on VA health care. The Choice program has helped a number of veterans, but there is room for improvements to be made. This is a critical step to eliminating the obstacles veterans face when accessing the healthcare services they need,” Boozman said.
During the press conference, Boozman expressed his appreciation for the Committee’s leadership, Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), for including provisions based off of two bills he introduced—the Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program (HVRP) Clarification and Reauthorization Bill (S. 425) and the Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act of 2015 (S. 743).
The first of Boozman’s provisions clarifies that veterans who receive housing assistance remain eligible to receive job training under HVRP. Currently, if a veteran qualifies for housing under one of these programs VA no longer considers them “homeless,” and does not allow them to participate in HVRP.
“We are trying to end the cycle of homelessness amongst our veteran population by eliminating the hurdles they face to getting the affordable housing and job training assistance they earned. Getting a veteran into housing is only one step in the process. They also need training and assistance to help them secure stable employment so that they never again return to being homeless,” Boozman said.
The other Boozman provision included in the bill honors as veterans, National Guard and Reserve retirees who served honorably for twenty or more years but do not have the active duty service time required to qualify them as veterans under existing law.
Our National Guard and Reserve forces have seen significant mobilizations and active duty service, but many National Guardsmen and Reservists who served faithfully for twenty or more years, ready to answer the call to active duty, are not considered veterans under the government’s definition because the call for active duty mobilization never came.
“National Guard and Reserve members who selflessly serve in defense of our country should be honored for their sacrifice. These men and women earned this recognition for their steadfast commitment to our national security and Armed Forces and rightfully deserve to be honored with the title of veteran,” Boozman said.
This provision honors as veterans these Guard and Reserve retirees but does not entitle them to any additional benefits.