November 13, 2015

In recent years, House of Representatives action on significant veterans’ matters often cleared the chamber before the Senate. This year the full Senate went first by favorably voting out the “21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery and Other Improvements Act,” which addresses veteran health care and benefits needs.

With the Senate’s action, a longstanding MOAA and Military Coalition goal of honoring certain career reservists with no active duty service as veterans, is poised to be enacted in law. The Senate bill – S. 1203, Amended – however, differs slightly from the House bill – H.R. 1384 – sponsored by Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.). Walz’ bill would amend the laws governing veterans benefits in Title 38 of the U.S. Code by creating a new definition honoring the career reservists as veterans, but denying them any new benefits. 

The Senate provision simply honors the career reservists as veterans but does not codify the provision in Title 38. The compromise approach was apparently taken to overcome concerns that putting the honorific in Title 38 could be used in the future as a gateway to other veterans’ benefits. Walz dismissed the concern since his bill contains an explicit prohibition against new veterans benefits.

The Walz bill has cleared the full Veterans Affairs Committee. It could be voted out of the full House in the near future or combined with other measures in a House veterans omnibus. In that case, the differences between the two provisions would have to be reconciled.

Other components of the Senate bill would improve the transition process for separating servicemembers, upgrade the claims and appeals system and expand VA health care capacity. Among the changes, the bill would: 

  • Revive a pilot program to hire veteran medics and corpsmen to be skilled nursing assistants in VA’s emergency departments;
  • Expand the provision of chiropractic services to veterans;
  • Accelerate recognition of DoD medical credentials to boost VA recruitment of medical providers;
  • Encourage DoD to permit veteran service organizations to assist servicemembers who are leaving the military during their Transition Assistance Program training;
  • Expand the use of video-teleconferences for hearings before the Board of Veterans Appeals;
  • Assist surviving spouses of veteran owners of small businesses; and
  • Direct GAO to study the consistency of claims decision in VA regional offices.