North Country News
6:30 pm
Wed January 22, 2014

Sanders Introduces Omnibus Veterans Bill

Senator Bernie Sanders

Senator Bernie Sanders is introducing legislation targeting the needs of veterans. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley joined a conference call in which Vermont’s junior Senator outlined the plan.

    
Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced the “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014." The 350-page document addresses numerous issues of concern to veterans, including health care, education, and retirement benefits.
Senator Sanders held a conference call Wednesday to explain the legislation, an amalgam of individual provisions that have previously been proposed in the House and Senate.  "The legislation that I have introduced is S-1950. This is one of the most comprehensive pieces of veterans’ legislation that has been introduced in decades. It brings together a number of individual provisions that have been passed in the last year by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, often in a bipartisan way.”

Among the provisions are improvements to the VA’s claims system by requiring quarterly reports on efforts to eliminate benefit claims backlogs; expanded access to education benefits by veterans and their survivors, including allowing all veterans to pay instate tuition rates; dental care; and restoration of the full Cost of Living Adjustment - or COLA - for military retirees.  "If you study the situation facing veterans in this country, and if you look at the sacrifices made by them and their families and the problems that they currently have. Look if there’s a young man from northern Vermont who comes back from Iraq or Afghanistan and can’t find a job, you know what, I think we should deal with that.  And if there’s a guy who wants to get VA health care, but he is earning a little bit more than the current eligibility level, I think we should figure out a way to get him into the VA. And if I’m a woman coming back from Afghanistan and my ability to have a baby has been impacted, I think we’re going to deal with that as well. These are ideas that the veterans community has been talking about for years. And it is my intention to deal with this in a comprehensive way."

Sanders expects support from the Democratic caucus, and notes a number of provisions were introduced by Republicans.
The omnibus bill is expected to cost about $30 billion, and while the funding mechanism has yet to be determined, Sanders is suggesting the Overseas Contingency Operation Fund.  "The fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill provided 92 billion for OCO, $13 billion more than the President requested in his budget, and $10 billion more than the CBO projected in its latest baseline.  We think that especially when you understand that OCO is designed for military purposes that some of this money , a modest amount of this money, we’re thinking the bill may cost about $30 billion, can be used for the people who defend use. This is money for our defense and I think it is a very legitimate use.”

Sanders reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated the bill is a top priority and would be acted on as quickly as possible.

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