Keeping the Promise on Capitol Hill

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DAV pushes Congress for deadlines on legislation for women veterans

At a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing in late April, Deputy National Legislative Director Joy Ilem called on lawmakers to set specific goals for Memorial Day 2016 that would enhance care and services for women veterans.

Among these goals, DAV called for: every VA medical center to employ a full-time or part-time gynecologist; authorization of permanent child care services to better support access to VA care; creation of a VA/DOD workgroup to assess access to gender-sensitive mental health programs with peer-to-peer transition support; and increased numbers of safe transitional beds for women veterans and increased availability to housing programs for women veterans with children. This hearing built on an earlier hearing at which Ilem first called for the creation of equitable services for women veterans.

“Millions of women have answered the call of duty and put themselves at risk to preserve our nation’s security and our way of life,” said Ilem. “They served this country faithfully and many with distinction. Acknowledging their dedication and resilience and serving women veterans with greater respect, consideration, and care must become a priority.”

Bill introduced to expand caregiver benefits

In mid-April, Senator Patty Murray introduced the Military and Caregiver Services Improvement Act to extend VA benefits to those who help injured or ill veterans of all eras, not just post-9/11 veterans. The bill would also remove restrictions on who is eligible to receive these benefits, which includes siblings and friends.

“Caregivers play such a critical role in helping to facilitate recovery and, at a huge cost-savings to VA, maintain independence for veterans,” said Assistant National Legislative Director Adrian Atizado. “They’re a key part of the delivery of VA health care and we believe this bill will greatly improve the quality of life for so many more veterans and caregivers.”

Additionally, if passed into law, this legislation would allow veterans to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their dependents. There are nearly 4.4 million pre-9/11 caregivers that stand to benefit from changes to eligibility, which is estimated to cost $9.5 billion over four years and would be phased in to reduce strain on VA.

DAV Opposes House-Approved VA Budget Cuts

DAV has opposed the U.S. House of Representatives version of the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriation bill, which passed in late April. Lawmakers voted 255-163 to pass H.R. 2029, despite warnings from the White House that the proposed $76.6 billion bill would not adequately fund veterans health care, programs and services. The bill comes with a $585 million reduction to the FY 2016 VA Medical Care request and a $582 million reduction to the FY 2016 VA major construction request that would negatively impact medical care and service for tens of thousands of veterans.

“It is incomprehensible for lawmakers to support further underfunding the VA and thereby denying veterans access to the health care, programs and services they were promised,” said DAV National Commander Ron Hope. “VA leaders have made clear their funding requests are critical to fixing these issues within the system. If Congress wants to stand behind veterans on the stump, they need to stand behind them with their votes as well.”

These shortfalls would diminish the VA’s ability to properly staff and equip facilities, make necessary upgrades and expansions at medical facilities and national cemeteries, and would cut medical research.