Government Affairs Committee Update May/June 2021

BY PETE PETERSON, CHAIR

Enacting a law is only part of the legislative process: After the President signs a bill into law, the Executive Branch departments and agencies must implement it. VVA works with Congress and the Department of Veteran Affairs to ensure that the bills affecting veterans and their families as signed into law by the President are fully implemented.

On January 1, H.R. 6395, The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, became Public Law 116-283. It contains the Tester/Harder Amendment to help Vietnam veterans who are struggling with certain health complications after being exposed to Agent Orange. Title XCI—Veterans Affairs Matters, Section 9109—states:

Additional Diseases Associated With Exposure To Certain Herbicide Agents For Which There Is A Presumption Of Service Connection For Veterans Who Served In The Republic Of Vietnam. Section 1116(a)(2) of title 38, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new subparagraphs: (I) Parkinsonism. (J) Bladder cancer. (K) Hypothyroidism.

Highlights of the NDAA, Title XCI—Veterans Affairs Matters

Modification of licensure requirements for VA health care professionals providing treatment via telemedicine
Additional care for newborn children of veterans
Expansion of eligibility for HUD-VASH
Study on unemployment rate of women veterans who served on active duty in the armed forces after September 11, 2001
Access of veterans to Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record
VA report on undisbursed funds
Transfer of Mare Island Naval Cemetery to the VA Secretary for maintenance by National Cemetery Administration
Comptroller General report on VA handling of disability compensation claims by certain veterans
Additional diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents for which there is a presumption of service connection for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam

You can read the bill’s conference report online.

On January 5, H.R. 7105, The Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D., Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020, became P.L. 116-315. “This is the culmination of two years of bipartisan work,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). “There is something in this bill for just about every one of our nation’s veterans and their loved ones.”

You can read the bill’s conference report online.

Highlights of H.R. 7105, The Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D., Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020:

Requires the VA to return Disability Based Questionnaires to their public-facing website, and requires the VA accept Disability Based Questionnaires as evidence in disability compensation claims, even when completed by non-VA medical providers
Increases the timeframe of the Vietnam War Era of military service by changing the beginning date to November 1, 1955
Eliminates the 12-year time limit governing applications for Veteran Readiness & Employment (VR&E) benefits for veterans who separated from military service after January 1, 2013 (i.e., making VR&E the same as the Forever G.I. Bill)
Sets new limits on when the VA’s Debt Management Center may initiate debt collection proceedings against veterans
Lowers the age to 55 at which a re-married surviving spouse of a veteran may receive Dependency Indemnity Compensation
Requires a GAO briefing and report on repealing the manifestation period for presumptions of service connection for certain diseases associated with exposure to herbicide agents
Increases the federal government’s special pensions for the surviving spouses of Medal of Honor recipients
Requires the Veterans Benefits Administration to establish specialized teams for processing military sexual trauma claims
Allows veterans filing a claim for a physical or mental health condition resulting from sexual trauma to choose the gender of their Compensation and Pension Exam provider
Allows National Guard and Reserve service under Title 32 orders to count for VA Home Loan eligibility
Requires the VA to allow veterans to update dependent information via the eBenefits website
Requires the VA to study cancer, diseases, or illnesses experienced by those who served at the Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Air Base in Uzbekistan between October 1, 2001, and September 30, 2005, and expands the VA’s open burn pit registry to include burn pits in Uzbekistan
Specifies circumstances under which a servicemember, including members of the National Guard and Reserves, is considered service-connected for a disability or death from COVID-19
Orders the VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits to ensure that every paper or electronic document relating to the receipt of a non-service-connected pension includes a notice that the department does not charge any fee in connection with the filing of an initial claim for benefits

Additional Services for Women Veterans:

Devotes $20 million for retrofitting health care facilities “to make it safer and easier for women veterans to get care,” and requires the Veterans Health Administration to submit plans for approval regarding how they will designate these funds
Mandates that every VA facility have at least one women’s health primary care provider
Creates a permanent Office of Women’s Health in the VHA tasked with oversight of VA Women’s Health Programs
Requires VA leaders to create “an anti-harassment and anti-sexual assault policy” and designate officials to take responsibility for any related complaints
Requires VA to create a women veterans training module for community health care providers
Expands the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans’ mandate to include examining the effect of intimate partner violence on women veterans and creates a VA pilot program to care for survivors of intimate partner violence
Ensures that servicemembers and veterans seeking access to care and counseling related to military sexual trauma can seek this care at any VA health care facility, not just Vet Centers
Requires VA to enter into agreements with public or private entities to provide free legal services to women veterans to meet the following unmet needs: child support, eviction and foreclosure prevention, discharge upgrade appeals, financial guardianship, credit counseling, and family reconciliation assistance
Improves access to prosthetic items made specifically for women at VA medical facilities

Enhanced Health Care Services:

Waives VA requirements for receipt of per diem payments for domiciliary care at State Veterans Homes and modification of eligibility for payments
Prohibits the VHA from collecting co-payments from veterans who are members of a Native American tribal nation
Makes permanent a pilot program to provide childcare to veterans enrolled in the VA health care system and gives the VHA five years to implement the provision of childcare at every VA medical center
Requires State Veterans Homes to report on COVID-19 cases in these facilities to the VA
Requires the VA to pay for emergency transportation of newborns
Requires VA medical facilities to have drop-off locations for controlled substance medications
Mandates an annual audit of facility-level appointment scheduling, which VHA must share with Congress

Services for Homeless Veterans and Veterans at Risk of Homelessness:

Expands the HUD-VASH voucher program to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges
Increases the amount of grant funds awarded to organizations providing services to homeless veterans to 115 percent of the State Veterans Home domiciliary rate, and allows for additional increases of grant funds in higher cost-of-living areas
Allows the VA to award grants to legal services organizations assisting veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness.
Requires the VA to study existing programs that provide assistance to women veterans who are homeless, with a goal of identifying continued areas of need.
Extends contracts for VA Homeless Veteran Case Managers to prevent gaps in services for homeless veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

VVA thanks you for answering the call to action; we look forward to more victories in 2021.




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