Words by Bridget Foster.
The budget deal reached late last December by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray included a controversial provision to reduce the cost of living adjustment for working age military retirees by 1 percent. The COLA reduction was designed to save the federal government $6 billion over a period of ten years. That reduction may soon be replaced if legislation proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders is passed in the Senate next week.
Announced by Sanders on Wednesday, S. 1950, known as the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Restoration Bill, incorporates a body of other previously proposed legislation aimed at restoring or improving veterans’ health, education and employment benefits. The bill, which took over a year to cobble together, is a bipartisan effort and has been described as the most comprehensive veteran’s legislation to come before the Senate in decades.
In addition to restoring the COLA, the proposed bill would, in Sanders’ words “deliver on the promises that we have made to our service members…we have to do everything possible to give back to them and their families.” The massive bill has received support from most of the major veteran’s service organizations, including the DAV, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Military Officers Association of America, which was one of the first organizations to speak out in support of the bill.
In addition to restoring the 1 percent COLA reduction, key provisions of the legislation would:
- Increase chiropractic care and alternative medicine programs at VA clinics and medical centers
- Amend the date of eligibility for medical services for servicemembers exposed to contaminated water at Camp LeJeune, from January 1, 1957 to August 1, 1953
- Extend by three years a pilot program that provides services for veterans with complex mild to severe traumatic brain injury
- Expand dental care programs and services
- Improve care and benefits, including easing the claims process, for victims who were sexually assaulted during their military service. This provision removes the requirement to be initially seen by and receive a referral from the Department of Defense
- Permanently provide reintegration and readjustment counseling in retreat settings for newly separated female veterans
- Renew provisions from the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011
- Make recently separated veterans eligible for in-state tuition rates and improve the level of benefits offered to survivors of certain service members killed on active duty
- Extend the period of time individuals (including active, Reserve and Guard), are eligible to enroll in the VA healthcare system from five years to ten years post-deployment
- Assist veterans suffering from reproductive issues related to their military service by providing access to monetary benefits for fertility treatment or adoption
The greatest obstacle to passage of the legislation is the proposed funding source: $30 billion dollars from the Pentagon’s war budget of $92 billion dollars. Senator Sanders considers it a “legitimate use of …money…for the people who defended us.” The Senate is expected to consider the legislation after next week’s congressional recess.