Senate passes compromise veterans package - Army News | News from Afghanistan & Iraq
The Senate passed the bill, HR 3219, by voice vote late Tuesday. The House is expected to approve it in the next few days.
The compromise bill surfaces just as national polls are showing wide spread discontent among voters about the glacial pace of legislative act. Getting the bill done is proof that when their backs are to the wall, lawmakers can reach agreement on veterans issues, which are largely bipartisan.
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., are largely responsible for the agreement but there are dozens of bills wrapped into a package. Final passage by the House is expected by weeks’ end, just before lawmakers leave town. Akaka is chairman of the Senate veterans’ committee while Filner heads the House veterans’ panel.
Akaka said there are some important provisions, such as an increase in Veterans’ Mortage Life Insurance that fills a need “obvious in today’s housing market.” Currently, maximum insurance in case of the death of a service-connected disabled veteran was $90,000, far short of paying the mortgage balance on most homes. The bill hikes the maximum to $200,000.
Additionally, it increases supplemental life insurance for totally disabled veterans to $30,000, a $10,000 jump.
“Many totally disabled veterans find it difficult to obtain commercial life insurance,” Akaka said. “This legislation would provide these veterans with a reasonable amount of life insurance coverage.”
Called the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010, the package also expands federal work-study programs to try to help veterans find jobs and it also tried to crack down small businesses trying to take advantage of veteran-owned business set asides by making the Veterans Affairs Department responsible for keeping a database of companies where the VA can show it is owned and controlled by a veteran. This addresses a hot-button issue for many veterans’ service organizations, who have complained to Congress that business are getting contracts without having veterans involved.
Here are some of the key provisions of the compromise:
• The Office of Special Counsel would be used on a test basis to enforce employment and re-employment rights for veterans when the federal agency is the employer.
• Homeless veterans grants from the Labor Department would be expanded specifically to help women veterans and homeless veterans with children by including childcare services along with training, counseling and placement services.• A pilot program would provide grants in three states to try to help veterans find jobs in energy-related fields. The states are not named.
• In an expansion of the ability of service members to cancel leases and contracts when deployed or reassigned to new duty stations, the bill would prohibit early termination fees for residential leases and also allows service members to terminate cellular telephone contracts, including family plans, at any time when they have military orders to relocate for 90 days or longer or move to an area not served by the cell phone company.
• Veterans’ burial benefits would increase to $700, effective Oct. 1, 2010, when a veteran dies in a VA facility or is eligible for burial in a national cemetery.
• Parents of deceased service members could be buried alongside their child in a national cemetery if the service member was not married and did not have a child and when the service member was killed by hostile fire or in a training accident.
American Cold War Veterans
---------------- "And so the greatest of American triumphs... became a peculiarly joyless victory. We had won the Cold War, but there would be no parades." -- Robert M. Gates, 1996