Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka
Mr. President, I am pleased to introduce the Veterans' Insurance and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2009. This comprehensive legislation, much of which was considered and passed by the Senate in the last Congress, would improve benefits and services for veterans both young and old.
This legislation would make several important improvements in insurance programs for disabled veterans. It would establish a new program of insurance for service-connected disabled veterans that would provide up to a maximum of $50,000 in level premium term life insurance coverage. This new program would be available to service-connected disabled veterans who are less than 65 years of age at the time of application. More importantly, unlike VA's Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance program, the premium rates for this program would be based on an updated mortality table, meaning that premiums under this program would be fairer to veterans.
This legislation would also expand eligibility for retroactive benefits from traumatic injury protection coverage under the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance program. This insurance program went into effect on December 1, 2005. All insured servicemembers under SGLI from that point forward are covered by traumatic injury protection regardless of where their injuries occur. However, individuals sustaining traumatic injuries between October 7, 2001, and November 30, 2005, that were not incurred as a direct result of Operations Enduring or Iraqi Freedom are not eligible for a retroactive payment under the traumatic injury protection program. This legislation would expand eligibility to these individuals.
This bill would also increase the maximum amount of Veterans' Mortgage Life Insurance that a service-connected disabled veteran may purchase from the current maximum of $90,000 up to $200,000. In the event of the veteran's death, the veteran's family is protected because VA will pay the balance of the mortgage owed up to the maximum amount of insurance purchased. The need for this increase is obvious in today's housing market.
In addition, this legislation would increase the amount of supplemental life insurance available to totally disabled veterans from $20,000 to $30,000. Many totally disabled veterans find it difficult to obtain commercial life insurance. This legislation would provide these veterans with a reasonable amount of life insurance coverage.
This bill would also increase certain benefits for veterans and their survivors that have not been updated for many years. The minimum benefit rate for low-income parents of children who have died during military service, or as the result of a service-connected disability, has remained at only $5.00 per month since 1975. This is unacceptable. Therefore, this bill would increase the minimum Parent's DIC benefit to $100 per month, and also increase the basic benefit for a parent with no income to the same level as that provided to low-income spouses of wartime veterans. In addition, this bill would increase the amount of pension paid to VA pensioners who receive Medicaid benefits from $90.00 per month, which was set in 1989, to $100 per month. In addition, all of these benefits and benefits for surviving spouses with children would be adjusted by cost-of-living allowances so that these VA benefits would never again become so outdated.
Another provision included in this bill would reaffirm Congress's intent with regard to who should be eligible for a special monthly pension. Low income, nondisabled wartime veterans 65 and older qualify for a VA service pension benefit. Those who are totally and permanently disabled are eligible to receive a disability pension with additional monies if they are housebound, blind, or need help in everyday living activities. In a 2006 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled that an older veteran no longer had to have a disability rated permanent and total in order to receive housebound benefits. The legislative history is clear that Congress intended that only those veterans with a permanent and total disability would qualify for housebound benefits. This provision would require VA to provide this benefit as Congress originally intended.
This is not a comprehensive recitation of all the provisions within this important veterans' legislation. However, I hope that I have provided an appropriate overview of the benefits this legislation would provide for America's veterans and servicemembers. I urge our colleagues to support the legislation.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.
March 26, 2009