As you are aware, the Senate is well into a busy legislative season in the 112th Congress. I hope you will take a few minutes to read an update on what my colleagues and I have been doing to help make sure that our nation’s veterans are receiving the care and benefits they deserve.
111th Congress Wrap-Up
First, I’d like to highlight a couple of items from the end of the 111th Congress. In mid-December, the Senate approved the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010. This legislation, which I co-sponsored, makes critical improvements to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It provides eligibility for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to certain Guard members who were inadvertently left out, allows servicemembers, veterans and their families to receive a stipend for books and supplies and also allows servicemen and women to use their benefits for on-the-job and vocational training. I’m pleased that the Senate was able to agree on a bill that better fits the needs of our former military personnel and their families. I look forward to hearing many success stories from men and women who have utilized these benefits and gone on to accomplish great things.
I’d be remiss to speak about our work from the previous Congress without letting you know what exactly is going on with the Caregiver and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 which was signed into law last year. This bill is designed to provide assistance for the family caregivers of seriously disabled veterans, including training and certification required to meet the veteran’s needs, access to ongoing support services, counseling and mental health services. Not only has VA failed to meet the deadline mandated by Congress to have this program in place, the specific guidelines that they’ve suggested are off the mark. I, along with others, have spoken directly to Gen. Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs about the urgency of this issue and the potential consequences for our veterans. You can watch a video here of the most recent exchange, which occurred at a Committee hearing on Capitol Hill last Wednesday. Keep reading to learn more about that hearing. Additionally, I and other members of leadership on the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs penned a letter to President Obama, asking him to work with VA to make sure this legislation works for the veterans and caregivers for whom it was intended. You can read that letter here. If you’re interested in reading more about the 111th Congress, please click here.
Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans and Other Updates from the 112th Congress
The first bill that I introduced in the 112th Congress addresses the concerns of many veterans in North Carolina and across the country. The Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, which I also introduced in the 111th Congress, would require VA to provide health care to veterans and their family members who have experienced adverse health effects as a result of exposure to well-water contaminated by human carcinogens at Camp Lejeune. We have another shot at doing the right thing for the thousands of Navy and Marine veterans and their families who were harmed during their service to our country. I will continue to push on this issue until these veterans and families receive the care they desperately need.
I am also very aware that the disability claims processing system is a source of frustration for many veterans. Just last week, I introduced a bill that will help address the problem by allowing veterans who file "fully-developed claims" to be compensated for a period up to one year prior to the date the claim was filed. Often, the most time-consuming part of the disability claims process is waiting for VA to gather evidence. This bill enables veterans who file complete claims to bypass that part of the claims process so they can get their answers more quickly. This bill also ensures that veterans do not lose out on benefits during the time they spend collecting evidence. I understand that the claims processing system is in need of a significant overhaul. While more must be done, this bill is a step in the right direction.
Also last week, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs welcomed members of Disabled American Veterans (DAV) to Capitol Hill for a joint hearing with the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. I was pleased to introduce fellow North Carolinian and DAV National Commander Wally Tyson at the hearing. I look forward to working with Commander Tyson and all of the members of the DAV to help make sure our policies are working for veterans at home.
Last Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs heard testimony from Secretary Eric Shinseki and VA senior leadership regarding the President’s 2012 proposed budget for VA. In my opening statement, which you can watch here and read here, I outlined how I think we can provide our veterans with the care and benefits they both need and deserve while also being mindful of taxpayers’ dollars. It was at this hearing that I and my colleagues admonished VA for their failure to adequately implement the Caregiver program. You can view that video here.
We have a busy month still ahead. Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) arrived on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to let the Committee know what they think we can do to better serve our veterans. You can view other upcoming Committee hearings here.
I also look forward to recognizing “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” on March 30th. Earlier this week, the Senate passed a resolution that I introduced to set aside March 30th for this special day. The resolution now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration. This is an important day where we can recognize Vietnam veterans for their sacrifice and provide a belated warm welcome to those veterans who returned from war to a politically divided country. On March 30, 1973, all U.S. troops withdrew from Vietnam under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. My hope is that this March 30th, communities throughout North Carolina and across the country will honor these veterans with activities and events in their own cities and town. This day also serves as an important reminder that never again should our men and women serving in the armed forces receive the same treatment as those returning from Vietnam.
You have probably heard by now that Mr. Frank Buckles, America’s last living World War One veteran, passed away on Sunday, February 27th, just one month after his 110th birthday. While our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this time of loss, it’s also important that we all take a moment to remember and honor Mr. Buckles and the men and women of his generation who sacrificed so much to ensure that we are able to live in a world where democracy and freedom are celebrated values.
It’s important that what we are doing in Congress is working for our veterans directly and making sure veterans and their families are receiving the care and benefits they deserve. I value your feedback. You can contact me at the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs by emailing me here or feel free to reach out to my staff by telephone at (202) 224-2074. Please also follow me on Twitter @SenatorBurr or check in for updates on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/SenatorRichardBurr.
Senator Richard Burr
Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs