Omnibus includes comprehensive health care, housing, homelessness, education and benefits legislation for veterans
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Wednesday, July 18, 2012, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee helped ensure passage of the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 by unanimous consent. This bipartisan, bicameral, and comprehensive legislation combines provisions of the Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011(S. 914, Report No. 112-088) and Honoring American Veterans Act of 2011 (H.R. 1627, Report No. 112-084 Part 1), as well as provisions from other Senate and House legislation. This comprehensive package extends health care to veterans and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune, expands critical health programs, improves housing programs, enhances programs for homeless veterans, and makes needed improvements to the disability claims system. In the face of threatened delays on the bill, Senator Murray brokered a compromise today that allowed the bill to move forward.
“This comprehensive legislation makes improvements to almost every aspect of care and services for veterans, and I am proud of the work my committee put into bringing this omnibus bill together,” Senator Murray said following passage of the bill. “This bill will finally provide health care to veterans and family members exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, expand eligibility for housing adaptation grants to more seriously injured veterans, and make help for homeless veterans more widely available.”
Specifically, the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 would:
- Provide health care for certain individuals stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. This bill will extend hospital care and medical services coverage for certain illnesses and conditions to eligible veterans and family members who served on active duty or lived at Camp Lejeune.
- Expand critical health care programs for veterans. This bill will authorize VA to waive copayments for telehealth and telemedicine visits of veterans, expand beneficiary travel reimbursement for veterans living in highly rural areas, and improve reimbursement for state veterans homes. In addition, the bill will enhance VA’s teleconsultation and telemedicine capabilities to improve rural veterans’ access to quality health care, protect veterans from sexual assault and other safety incidents, and expand TBI services.
- Enhance Specially Adapted Housing programs for disabled veterans. This bill expands the eligibility for VA’s specially adapted housing assistance grants to certain veterans with disabilities due to the loss or loss of use of one or more lower extremities that preclude ambulating without the aid of a supporting device. Senator Murray recently heard from a veteran who is severely injured with an above the knee amputation and an injury to his hip. His combination of injuries made it incredibly difficult for him to live comfortably in his home, yet despite his serious injuries and mobility challenges, he did not meet current eligibility criteria for VA’s adaptive housing programs to get the benefits that he so critically needed. Senator Murray wrote a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki asking that eligibility criteria be adjusted accordingly, so that veterans in similar situations can get the benefits they deserve. This bill authorizes increased assistance to those disabled veterans who reside temporarily with family members and indexes levels of such assistance on an annual basis. The bill also provides adaptive housing assistance grants to veterans with a lesser degree of vision impairment than what is required by current law.
- Improve efforts to eliminate homelessness among veterans. This bill will reauthorize a number of VA’s programs to help homeless veterans and will expand eligibility for VA’s emergency shelter services to include homeless veterans who are not seriously mentally ill. In addition, the bill enhances grant programs for homeless veterans with special needs, by including dependents of veterans and male veterans with dependent children. The bill also improves the grant and per diem program, which serves upward of 30,000 homeless veterans annually, by requiring VA to report on how to improve the per diem payment process for grantees. In addition, the bill strengthens efforts by eligible entities to assist in case management services provided to the nearly 40,000 homeless veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program.
- Strengthen veterans’ benefits and improving claims processing. This bill will improve VA’s disability claims appeal processing by waiving initial review of claimants’ new evidence by the agency of original jurisdiction unless specifically requested. It is estimated that this provision could prevent approximately 1,600 remands from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals per year allowing the Board more time to address the backlog of appeals. Other significant improvements include, improving the process of filing jointly for social security and dependency and indemnity compensation and clarifying the month of death payment provisions to ensure surviving spouses receive proper and timely benefit payments.