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Blumenthal, Isakson Applaud House Passage of Bipartisan, Bicameral Veterans Reform Package

Urge Senate to follow suit, quickly pass legislation to improve veterans’ access to health care, disability, education, homelessness benefits

[WASHINGTON] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA), ranking member and chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, today applauded action by the U.S. House of Representatives to unanimously pass legislation to improve veterans’ access to health care, disability benefits, education and homelessness assistance, among other important benefits for our nation’s veterans.

Blumenthal will be speaking about the bill on the Senate Floor at approximately 5:40 PM ET. Reporters can watch here.

“This omnibus measure with more than 70 provisions is broad and comprehensive in scope and scale,” said Blumenthal. “More veterans, including many at risk of homelessness, will receive the care and benefits they need and deserve. VA hospitals will have better management of mental health counselors and emergency room doctors. Veterans’ families will be helped by extending critical education benefits to surviving members. Work will finally begin to help descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass this critical legislation without delay, and forge ahead to ensure no veteran is left behind.”

“When I took over as chairman in 2015, I promised to do everything I could to see to it that we are never ceasing to make improvements to the care and benefits that our veterans have earned,” said Isakson. “We will never play politics with our veterans on my watch, and when we find a problem, we are going to fix it. I am proud of what we have accomplished through this bipartisan package of bills that will improve many aspects of the care and benefits that our veterans receive at the VA. I applaud today’s action by the House, and I hope my colleagues in the Senate will follow suit without delay to pass this important measure.”

The Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 (H.R.6416) includes 76 bipartisan provisions that address a variety of areas in veterans’ services that are in need of reforms or improvements. It incorporates language from a number of previously introduced House and Senate bills, including several provisions from the Veterans First Act, which unanimously passed the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in May 2016.

Following today’s unanimous House passage, the measure now comes to the Senate for a vote.

Specifically, the H.R.6416 will:

  • Streamline portions of the process for veterans, their families and their survivors to obtain disability compensation and benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA);
  • Expand the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims from seven to nine judges to help address the large backlog of veterans’ appeals that may soon arrive at the court;
  • Make changes to the VA’s burial benefits and interment policies, including expanding eligibility for presidential memorial certificates to certain individuals who served in reserve units of the Armed Forces, among others;
  • Provide a much-needed extension of education benefits for surviving spouses who lost a loved one on September 11, 2001, or during the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq;
  • Improve how the VA administers and approves education benefits for veterans and allow mobilized reservists to keep their GI Bill eligibility when a deployment interrupts their schooling;
  • Modify ownership requirements for small businesses participating in the VA contract assistance programs and require the Department of Labor to conduct a five-year study of job counseling, training, and placement service for veterans;
  • Make improvements to the VA’s health care services and benefits to include:
    • Ensuring preventative health services for veterans include access to adult immunizations for veterans who wish to receive them;
    • Prioritizing access to care for medal of honor recipients;
    • Ensuring veterans who served in classified missions can access mental health care without disclosing classified information;
    • Requiring the VA to submit an annual report to Congress regarding the provision of hospital care, medical services and nursing home care by the Veterans Health Administration;
    • Expanding the qualification criteria to make it easier to hire qualified mental health care professionals;
    • Enhancing research on the potential health effects from toxic exposures to veterans and their descendants.
  • Increase access to benefits for homeless veterans.

The measure is named after retiring chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., as well as outgoing ranking member Blumenthal of the Senate committee in tribute to their years-long commitment to serving veterans in Congress.

A section-by-section summary of the H.R.6416 is available here.