(Hartford, CT) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) – joined by veterans and veterans advocates, including Commissioner Linda Schwartz – unveiled details of the historic Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014, major, new legislation that would reduce the disability claims backlog, restore retirement benefits, improve health care services, and help prevent discrimination against veterans among other reforms. The bill is commonly referred to as the “Veterans Megabus Bill.”
“This bill is big and broad – because the challenges and needs of our veterans are big and broad, urgent and diverse,” Blumenthal said. “The number of veterans is growing dramatically, as our nation winds down recent wars and our armed services down size. These veterans, and their needs, are diverse and varied, encompassing men and women of widely different ages, eras, and circumstances. My hope is that a broad bill will win support from a broad, bipartisan coalition.”
Blumenthal added, “Particularly noteworthy are the bill's provisions expanding health care access, and job creation and training. Clearing the claims backlog, and restoring retiree pensions are also priorities. Veterans suffering from invisible wounds like Post-Traumatic Stress, along with all who have been injured on the battlefield, deserve recognition and action.”
Blumenthal helped lead the Veterans Megabus Bill, which includes several provisions written and/or supported by him such as one that makes it easier for veterans to prove military sexual trauma for the purpose of receiving Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation, another that would require any organization wishing to use the phrases “Post-9/11 GI Bill” and “GI Bill” to get permission from the VA to help prevent fraud, and another that would improve health care for veterans by expanding access to chiropractic care at VA medical centers nationwide.
“I've been proud to spearhead this measure, working as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee with Chairman Bernie Sanders,” Blumenthal said. “I look forward to a prompt vote in the Senate. We must keep faith with veterans of all wars and eras, and make sure that we leave no veteran behind.”
Highlights from the Veterans Megabus Bill are below. A list of bill provisions written or supported by Blumenthal is here.
- The bill expands eligibility for VA healthcare to many more veterans – specifically all veterans who do not have access to healthcare except through a health exchange, even if the veteran does not have a service-connected disability and is above the current income thresholds.
- The bill also expands eligibility for VA caregiver assistance, including monthly stipends and trainings, to caregivers of veterans from any era. Currently, only post-9/11 veterans are eligible.
- The bill authorizes 27 major medical facility leases, including Errera in West Hartford.
- This bill expands eligibility for scholarships to surviving spouses of military members killed in action.
- The bill states to charge all veterans in-state tuition rates, regardless of the veteran’s actual state of residence. Connecticut provides veterans who are residents of the state free tuition at public universities; now they’d be required to charge veterans from other states in-state tuition rates.
- This bill trademarks the phrases “Post-9/11 GI Bill” and “GI Bill” so some for-profit colleges would have to cease using the phrase as not to mislead veterans.
- The bill requires federal agencies to develop plans to hire 15,000 veterans over the next five years.
- The bill requires states to recognize military experience when issuing licenses and credentials.
- The bill makes it easier for survivors of military sexual trauma to file VA disability claims without a documented assault. Approximately 85 percent of assaults go unreported at the time they occur, so veterans often do not have evidence of the assault when filing VA disability claims.
- This bill also improves video conferencing technology for claims decisions and requires the VA to develop a plan to improve claims processing.
- It also creates a task force to make recommendations to eliminate the backlog quickly.