Legislative Update

by Melanie Brunson

Upcoming Testimony

BVA National President Dale Stamper is one of eight organizational representatives scheduled to present oral testimony at a joint hearing of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs on March 3. The overarching purpose of the hearing is for Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) to outline their legislative priorities for the upcoming fiscal year before Members of the Committees and their staffs. We hope to have better luck with the weather this year! A snowstorm in 2015 postponed the hearing by some ten weeks. Joining Dale at the witness table will be representatives from AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Gold Star Wives of America, Wounded Warrior Project, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the National Guard Association of the United States.

For anyone in the Washington area interested in attending the hearing, please arrive at Room 345 (the large caucus room) of the Cannon House Office Building by 9:30 a.m. The hearing will begin promptly at 10:00. 
Our written testimony will be submitted for the record and will, shortly after the hearing, appear on the VA House Committee website and our own BVA site. The session will likely be webcast via the same House VA Committee site. Stay tuned for additional information on how to listen and/or watch online. We will provide a link to the webcast if at all possible.

Issues likely to be addressed and highlighted in BVA’s testimony include: the ongoing need for funding of travel expenses for veterans with nonservice-connected visual or spinal cord injuries seeking rehabilitative services at one of VA’s 13 Blind Rehabilitation Centers (H.R. 288 and S. 171); the need for increased funding of research into the prevention and treatment of combat-related eye injuries; and VA’s compliance with Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Additional Legislation Affecting Blinded Vets

We continue to meet with staff from both houses of Congress in an effort to move along the legislation that addresses our concerns. We should know by mid-March which bills Congress is likely to act on before the end of 2016. We will let you know if any of those of high priority for us make it onto their short list.

For the moment, the following is a sample of the bills that may be of interest to our members and other Bulletin readers:

H.R. 3936, the “Veteran Engagement Team (VET) Act,” would create a three-year pilot program of one-stop shops for veterans in need of help to process their disability claims. The purpose of this legislation is to address the VA claims backlog by fostering a better culture within the VA Regional Offices, by placing VA employees back in the community, and by streamlining the VA claims process to eliminate the wait time and lost paperwork. It was introduced by Representatives Ryan Costello (R-PA-6) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA-8). It includes the following provisions:

  • VET events would occur monthly in the community at no or minimal cost.A
  • All personnel needed to process a claim would be present, and community doctors and veteran service representatives would have the opportunity to offer services pro bono.
  • If a veteran is unable to complete and adjudicate a claim, he/she must be informed as to what additional information or actions are needed.
  • Staff would be held accountable by a requirement to submit a report that includes the number and types of claims completed, an explanation of the claims they were unable to complete, and an overview of customer satisfaction.

H.R. 3974 and S. 2134, “Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act of 2015,” direct VA to carry out a mandate to provide educational assistance to certain former members of the Armed Forces for education and training as VA Physician Assistants.

H.R. 4012 and S. 2251, the “Seniors and Veterans Emergency Benefits Act (SAVE),” direct the Department of the Treasury to disburse a payment equal to 3.9 percent of the average amount of annual benefits to certain individuals (except prisoners, fugitive felons, or aliens) who are entitled to a specified benefit under Title II (Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance, or OASDI),  an annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act of 1974, a veterans benefit, or a cash benefit under SSA Title XVI (Supplemental Security Income) that includes individuals who perform substantial gainful activity despite severe medical impairment.

H.R. 4071, “Give Our Seniors and Veterans the COLA They Deserve,” directs the General Services Administration (GSA) to sell buildings owned by the federal government that are not utilized. GSA must identify all such buildings and sell them no later than five years after they have been identified. The bill exempts buildings that have been set aside for preservation or historic purposes. The bill requires the net revenues from the sale of such buildings to be made available to increase the Cost-Of-Living Adjustments to 1) Social Security retirement benefits, and 2) Retirement benefits for members and former members of the Armed Forces.

H.R. 4082, “Coordinating Transportation Services for the Transporting of Disadvantaged Individuals Act of 2015,” seeks to assist individuals who require the use of public transportation, but who have difficulty accessing public transportation due to disability, income level, age, or veteran status. The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

H.R. 4093 is the “Library of Congress Administrative Reform Act of 2015.” Section 2 of this legislation authorizes the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to provide playback equipment from material in all formats, not just books. The original law passed in 1931 provided books for the adult blind. The amended law would, if passed, modify administrative authorities of the Library of Congress to authorize the Library to purchase, maintain, or replace reproducers for books published either in raised characters, on sound-reproduction recordings, or in any other form for the use of the blind and for other physically disabled U.S. residents.

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