BILLS TO AID VETERANS BECOME LAW
by Melanie Brunson
In the weeks since our last update, several bills have been approved by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, that address some of BVA’s long standing legislative priorities. Most notable of these is the appropriations bill that funds the U.S. Dept. of Defense. This bill is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it marks the first time in twenty-two years that the Pentagon will start a new federal fiscal year with its funding in place. Second, and equally significant for BVA, this funding includes the appropriation of the full $20 million for DoD’s Vision Research Program, which BVA and our friends in the research community requested this year. We are very pleased by this funding increase and look forward to the advances in diagnosis and treatment of battlefield eye trauma that will result.
Several other bills of interest have made it through Congress and were signed into law by the President within the last few weeks. These include The Veterans Compensation Cost-Of-Living Adjustment Act of 2018, which provides for adjustments in compensation levels equal to those made each year for Social Security benefits. This will mean a change in how rates are computed each year for recipients of VA disability compensation, dependency compensation for surviving children and spouses, and those veterans who receive clothing allowances. Increases in benefits resulting from this legislation will take effect on December 1 each year. Beginning December 1, 2018, for example, those who receive benefits under any of the programs mentioned above will receive an increase in the amount of 2.8%.
We are also pleased to report that the President has signed legislation implementing the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for People who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Have Other Print Reading Disabilities. This is a treaty that blind advocates from around the world have been working on for over ten years. Its goal is to increase the availability of books in braille, large print, and audio formats for those who cannot read print books, by allowing nonprofit organizations that produce books in such alternate formats to share them with similar nonprofit organizations, and individuals known to have disabilities affecting their ability to read, in other countries. BVA and other national organizations of blind Americans have been waiting for our government to ratify this treaty for five years. Now that it has done so, we look forward to the resources it will make available to our members who like to read.
There are very few legislative working days left in 2018, as members of both houses of Congress will be taking time off to campaign for re-election, and to observe the fast-approaching holidays. As a result, members of Congress will have limited opportunities to pass additional legislation. However, they will have some time to act on bills that members can agree on for their broad appeal and wide bipartisan support. BVA is hoping that one of the bills that will fall into this category is HR6421. This bill takes an innovative approach to funding research into the prevention and treatment of eye diseases by proposing that the government sell bonds to cover the cost of such research. The bill’s authors believe that investors will purchase bonds in order to fund such worthwhile research, and if they are successful, proponents believe that a similar approach could be taken to funding of research on other vital health concerns. We are urging the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is currently considering this bill, to send it to the full House quickly so that it can be acted upon prior to the end of this Congress in December, 2018. Those of you who are reading this article who may wish to help get this legislation across the Congressional finish line can contact your own members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor HR6421, the Eye Bond bill.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the BVA national headquarters.