Just before the holidays, S. 944, a so-called “Omnibus” package that bundles many bills previously approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), was brought to the Floor for a vote by panel Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-VT.
The bill would enhance education benefits for veterans and certain surviving spouses, enhance other survivor benefits, expand health care, outreach and employment services and require quarterly reports on the backlog of veterans’ claims, among other upgrades.
Among other upgrades, S. 944 (Omnibus) would:
- Require public colleges to charge the in-state rate for all veterans who enroll within three years of separation from active duty as a condition for schools to retain GI Bill funding
- Permit surviving spouses who receive dependency and indemnity payments (DIC) from the VA to retain the pay if they remarry at age 55
- Increase DIC for survivors with children for each month over a three-year period from the date of entitlement — currently, the increase is limited to a two-year period
- Authorize the Gunnery Sergeant Fry Scholarships – essentially, the P-9/11 GI Bill — to the surviving spouses of the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts
- Extend authority for Yellow Ribbon matching funds under GI Bill programs to Gunny Fry Scholarship participants
- Establish that career reservists with no service under active duty orders may be honored as veterans
- Expand complementary and alternative therapies, prosthetics and chiropractic care at VA medical facilities
- Extend the date of eligibility from 1 Jan. 1957 to 1 Aug. 1953 for health care for veterans and their dependents exposed to contaminated water at Camp LeJeune
- Require the VA to provide medical exams, counseling and treatment for veterans who file for disability based on military sexual trauma
- Require states to consider military training for the purpose of issuing state licenses and credentials to veterans
Senator Sanders offered the bill for a “unanimous consent” Floor vote, since the measure was fully funded under ‘PAYGO’ rules and enjoyed bi-partisan Committee support. But Senator Coburn objected that there was inadequate consultation on the measure and wrote a letter to Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY, the Minority Leader, citing his objections. The Senator disputed that the bill is paid for and objected to the in-state tuition provision, among other concerns.
The ‘hold’ on the bill means that 2013 ended with a lump of coal for veterans who “have borne the battle and their widows and orphans,” as President Lincoln famously said.
MOAA and our Military Coalition partners are urging all members of the Senate to resolve the impasse as soon as possible and send S. 944 (Omnibus) to the House.