Senate Veterans' Committee Advances Health Care, Benefits Bills
|Senate Veteran's Committee Chair Bernie Sanders, (I-VT)|
WASHINGTON -- The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Wednesday approved a package of bills to improve benefits and health care services for veterans and their families. According to the committee Chair, Senator Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.) the package includes a measure to bring the Department of Veterans Affairs in line with a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) last month had urged members of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs to pass a bill that would provide key military benefits for same-sex spouses of gay service members.
Shaheen co-sponsored the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act – named for New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, whose wife and daughter were denied survivor and other benefits after Morgan’s death from breast cancer earlier this year.
Other legislation approved by the Committee would improve the delivery of care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual assault in the military. Another bill would make the VA provide detailed reports to Congress on its effort to eliminate a staggering claims backlog.
Some of the legislation cleared by the committee would:
• Expand eligibility for benefits for spouses married in states that allow gays to wed. The measure would bring the VA into conformance with a June 26 ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down a federal law that unconstitutionally denied federal benefits for all legally married couples.
• Improve the delivery of care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military. The Pentagon in May released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010.
• Improve veterans’ health care through increased access to complementary and alternative medicine, chiropractic care and transportation services.
• Expand access to education benefits for veterans and their survivors, including making recently-separated veterans eligible for tuition at the in-state rate and improving the level of benefits offered to survivors of service members killed on active duty.
The legislation now moves to the Senate floor for a full vote and if passed a joint conference committee review with the House.