Words by Wes O'Donnell.
An extensive bill proposing to add to the post military benefits veterans would receive did not make progress in Congress last Thursday afternoon. Efforts to pass this bill were sidelined when the Democrats in support of the bill were unable to get adequate backing from the Republicans in the Senate. Lack of four votes kept the bill from moving to a floor vote. Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and bill sponsor, Bernie Sanders, intends to find a way to move this bill through Congress before the years end. He was greatly hoping that party lines could be set aside in support of our veterans but that did not happen.
Throughout several days of debate, focus was primarily shifted to unrelated amendments for such things pertaining to the Affordable Care Act objections and sanctions on Iran. The main purpose of the bill itself received little attention in attempts to push other legislation through as leverage. Also the suggestions as to how to compensate for the additional funds the bill would require, primarily the use of overseas contingency funds, were highly criticized stating it would only add to spending in the long run.
Accusations from both sides labeling the other as being anti-veteran had veteran’s groups, once again, viewing Washington in an unfavorable light. The political party rivalry has, on several occasions, caused the failure to pass legislation that would help veterans and their families. Ultimately the veterans are the ones who are suffering for the behavior of Congress. Leaders of major veterans groups have expressed their strong desire for politicians to put party aside, focus on the issues at hand and provide better quality support of the veterans that have already given up so much for their country.
When this legislative package bill was presented in January, its main intention was to counter the cuts to military retirement pay. In early February, Congress reversed the cuts which lessened the immediate nature of the legislative package. However, military retirement pay was not the only component of this bill. It also made provisions for issues such as extended medical coverage for returning veterans, fertility assistance to wounded veterans, better treatment for veterans who were victims of sexual assault and ensuring that in-state tuition rates would be charged to all veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill regardless of their home of residence.
The price of compensation for the proposed bill is estimated at approximately $15 billion over the next 10 years. Suggestions on using overseas contingency funds are being greatly disputed by Republicans making it unclear as to when or if this bill has a chance in the Congress. Currently only suggestions of passing individual portions of the bill have been put up by House Republicans, but passage of the bill as a whole remains uncertain.