January 5, 2021, a new federal law was enacted that creates change for many veterans. These improvements to the VA system will affect women veterans, surviving spouses, student veterans, homeless veterans, burial benefits, copays, education, retraining, VA institutional changes and other items. Check with your local VSO for how benefits will change for you and watch our future newsletters for additional information.
Below is the press release issued by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. It states the following key provisions under the new law, click here to read the entire press release.
- This section would make a number of changes to VA education programs to improve benefits for surviving family members, sunset the outdated Montgomery GI Bill, Rep. Brownley’s provision to increase VA work-study options, Rep. Underwood’s provision to allow STEM scholarships for clinical health training programs, and Rep. Wexton’s provision to allow Yellow Ribbon Program participation by foreign schools.
- The bill would also improve oversight of educational programs by State Approving Agencies and codify the Principles of Excellence for schools receiving GI Bill funding to follow building on 2019 Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearings and legislation from Rep. Levin.
- COVID-19 Pandemic Relief
- This section would grant the Secretary authority to continue to pay benefits to veterans impacted by the pandemic and allow them to preserve entitlement to benefits when they are unable to complete courses due to the pandemic. This section includes provisions sponsored by Reps. Cunningham, Levin, Bilirakis, Roe, Takano, and Lamb.
- Benefits: These provisions would expand benefits to pre-Vietnam war era advisors, increase special pension for Medal of Honor surviving spouses, protect servicemembers claims for Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, required publication of VA’s Disability Benefit Questionnaires, and mandated research to help Agent Orange-exposed veterans who develop chloracne and porphyria cutanea tarda. Based on legislation introduced by Reps. Cox , Lamb, Kildee, Barr & Luria, and Courtney.
- Housing: These provisions would expand eligibility for VA Home Loan Guaranty Program to more members of the National Guard and Reserves, reduce the home loan funding fee for veterans impacted by disasters, and extend home loan funding fee rates through 2030. This includes provisions sponsored by Reps. Cunningham, Mast, and Correa.
- Reform collections of overpayments to beneficiaries: Requires new rules for VA collections of debts owed by beneficiaries to avoid unnecessary harm to veterans’ credit ratings, as well as prevent many overpayments from happening due to eligibility changes. This includes provisions sponsored by Reps. Pappas and Bost, and Senator Tester.
- Burial Matters: These provisions expand federal aid to counties for veterans’ cemeteries; increases funds for State, county, and tribal veterans’ cemeteries operating and maintenance expenses; and provides urns and commemorative plaques for deceased veterans. This includes legislation sponsored by Reps. Delgado, Sablan, and Brindisi.
- Long Term Care
- Enhanced oversight for state veterans’ homes regarding COVID-19 infections, response capacity, and staffing levels.
- Waiver of VA requirements for receipt of per diem payments for domiciliary care at state veterans’ homes and modification of eligibility for such payments based on legislation from Rep. Golden.
- Expansion of modifications to Veteran Directed Care program.
- Native Veterans
- Prohibition on collection of a health care copayment by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs from a veteran who is a member of an Indian tribe based on legislation from Rep. Gallego.
- Women Veterans
- Authority for Secretary of Veterans Affairs to furnish medically necessary transportation for newborn children of certain women veterans based on legislation from Rep. Allred.
- Continuation of Women’s Health Transition Training program of Department of Veterans Affairs based on legislation from Rep. Cisneros.
- Scheduling and Consult Management
- Provisions included establish a process for scheduling internal VA appointments and community care appointments, require VA to provide for an initial audit of appointment scheduling, require VA to review its staffing and training, and require VA to determine whether health care positions involved in the consultation and scheduling process are accurately graded.
- Other: VA pilot program for clinical observation by undergraduate students based on legislation from Rep. Kaptur.
Navy Seal Bill Mulder
- Service-connection and COVID-19
- Specify the circumstances under which a servicemember, including a member of the National Guard or reserves, is considered service-connected for a disability or death from COVID-19. This includes a provision from Chairmen Takano and Moran and Ranking Members Roe and Tester
- Assistance for Homeless Veterans
- Improves VA’s ability to award grant and per diem program funding to qualified providers of homelessness assistance services, expand HUD-VASH vouchers to veterans with other than honorable discharges, provide legal services for homeless veterans, and extend the coordination of case management services for homeless veterans based on provisions introduced by Reps. Levin and McCarthy in the Reducing Homelessness Veterans Act.
- Retraining Assistance for Veterans
- The legislation provides VA and Labor Secretaries access to the Federal directory of new hires to assist in veterans’ employment, expand the VET TEC training program for more veterans, extend the Off-Base Transition Training program, and direct VA to provide grants to community organizations for veteran transition assistance programs. This includes provisions introduced by Rep. Levin.
Deborah Sampson Act – Based on the House Passed Deborah Sampson Act led by Chairwoman Brownley, this title would eliminate barriers to care and services that many women veterans face and would help ensure the VA can address the needs of women veterans– who are more likely to face hardships and go without needed health care. By expanding access to care for women veterans, combatting sexual harassment and assault, increasing cultural competency for all VA staff, and improving data collection, this is the most comprehensive legislative package for women veterans in a decade.
Servicemember Civil Relief Act
- This title would extend Servicemember Civil Relief Act protections to catastrophically injured service members and their spouses, members of the US Coast Guard, and Gold Star Spouses based on legislation from Rep. Bustos.
Other – This title establishes certain administrative protocols not covered in the other titles and clarifies matters relating to the Chief Financial Officer of the VA.
- Rep Rice’s provision would authorize the Secretary to give preference to offerors that employ veterans, in awarding a VA contract for the procurement of goods or services.
- Included is a provision from Rep. Rose to extend USERRA protections to National Guardsmen responding to natural disasters, serving on State Active-Duty orders, or during a National Emergency as designated by the President.
- Administrative and Other Matters
- This would establish an Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Veteran Affairs based on legislation from Rep. Haaland.
- Extend Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) benefits to National Guardsman that meet certain criteria, extend beneficiary protections for fiduciary misuse of a benefit, make changes to how the VA must respond to standard form 95, require the VA to implement steps addressing “high risk” problems and submit several reports to Congress regarding GAO concerns and recommendations. Includes provisions sponsored by Senator Tester and Reps. Roe, Levin, and Pappas.
- Protects veterans from fraud at the hands of their fiduciary by closing a loophole that prevented some veterans from recovering misused funds based on a provision sponsored by Rep. Brownley.
- Matters Relating to the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Veterans Affairs
- This subtitle would require the VA CFO to improve internal financial controls and be more involved in the performance of subordinate financial officers. Includes provisions sponsored by Reps. Lee and Bergman.
Visit Know A Vet? (www.KnowAVet.org) for a list of resources for a wide range of issues and resources by zip code. Your local VSO can help connect you to other veteran or civilian organizations. To find your local VSO visit Know A Vet? and put your zip code in the box toward the top of the home page for your local Federal, State and County resources.
Watch for future articles from Know A Vet? that will discuss details on how this new law will affect current benefits, provide new benefits, and change the structure and procedures of the VA.
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The United States, The House Committee on Veteran Affairs, Chairman Takano, VA Committee Secure Major Provisions for Veterans in End of Year Package. (December 16, 2020) Retrieved from, https://veterans.house.gov/news/press-releases/chairman-takano-va-committee-secure-major-provisions-for-veterans-in-end-of-year-package