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Government Affairs, May/June 2021 -   -  

Legislative Update

Enacting a law is only part of the legislative process: After the President signs a bill into law, the Executive Branch departments and agencies must implement it. VVA works with Congress and the Department of Veteran Affairs to ensure that the bills affecting veterans and their families as signed into law by the President are fully implemented.

On January 1, H.R. 6395, The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2021, became Public Law 116-283. It contains the Tester/Harder Amendment to help Vietnam veterans who are struggling with certain health complications after being exposed to Agent Orange. Title XCI—Veterans Affairs Matters, Section 9109—states:

Additional Diseases Associated With Exposure To Certain Herbicide Agents For Which There Is A Presumption Of Service Connection For Veterans Who Served In The Republic Of Vietnam. Section 1116(a)(2) of title 38, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following new subparagraphs: (I) Parkinsonism. (J) Bladder cancer. (K) Hypothyroidism.

Highlights of the NDAA, Title XCI—Veterans Affairs Matters

  • Modification of licensure requirements for VA health care professionals providing treatment via telemedicine
  • Additional care for newborn children of veterans
  • Expansion of eligibility for HUD-VASH
  • Study on unemployment rate of women veterans who served on active duty in the armed forces after September 11, 2001
  • Access of veterans to Individual Longitudinal Exposure Record
  • VA report on undisbursed funds
  • Transfer of Mare Island Naval Cemetery to the VA Secretary for maintenance by National Cemetery Administration
  • Comptroller General report on VA handling of disability compensation claims by certain veterans
  • Additional diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents for which there is a presumption of service connection for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam

You can read the bill’s conference report online.

On January 5, H.R. 7105, The Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D., Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020, became P.L. 116-315. “This is the culmination of two years of bipartisan work,” said Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.). “There is something in this bill for just about every one of our nation’s veterans and their loved ones.”

You can read the bill’s conference report online.

Highlights of H.R. 7105, The Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D., Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020:

  • Requires the VA to return Disability Based Questionnaires to their public-facing website, and requires the VA accept Disability Based Questionnaires as evidence in disability compensation claims, even when completed by non-VA medical providers
  • Increases the timeframe of the Vietnam War Era of military service by changing the beginning date to November 1, 1955
  • Eliminates the 12-year time limit governing applications for Veteran Readiness & Employment (VR&E) benefits for veterans who separated from military service after January 1, 2013 (i.e., making VR&E the same as the Forever G.I. Bill)
  • Sets new limits on when the VA’s Debt Management Center may initiate debt collection proceedings against veterans
  • Lowers the age to 55 at which a re-married surviving spouse of a veteran may receive Dependency Indemnity Compensation
  • Requires a GAO briefing and report on repealing the manifestation period for presumptions of service connection for certain diseases associated with exposure to herbicide agents
  • Increases the federal government’s special pensions for the surviving spouses of Medal of Honor recipients
  • Requires the Veterans Benefits Administration to establish specialized teams for processing military sexual trauma claims
  • Allows veterans filing a claim for a physical or mental health condition resulting from sexual trauma to choose the gender of their Compensation and Pension Exam provider
  • Allows National Guard and Reserve service under Title 32 orders to count for VA Home Loan eligibility
  • Requires the VA to allow veterans to update dependent information via the eBenefits website
  • Requires the VA to study cancer, diseases, or illnesses experienced by those who served at the Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Air Base in Uzbekistan between October 1, 2001, and September 30, 2005, and expands the VA’s open burn pit registry to include burn pits in Uzbekistan
  • Specifies circumstances under which a servicemember, including members of the National Guard and Reserves, is considered service-connected for a disability or death from COVID-19
  • Orders the VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits to ensure that every paper or electronic document relating to the receipt of a non-service-connected pension includes a notice that the department does not charge any fee in connection with the filing of an initial claim for benefits

Additional Services for Women Veterans:

  • Devotes $20 million for retrofitting health care facilities “to make it safer and easier for women veterans to get care,” and requires the Veterans Health Administration to submit plans for approval regarding how they will designate these funds
  • Mandates that every VA facility have at least one women’s health primary care provider
  • Creates a permanent Office of Women’s Health in the VHA tasked with oversight of VA Women’s Health Programs
  • Requires VA leaders to create “an anti-harassment and anti-sexual assault policy” and designate officials to take responsibility for any related complaints
  • Requires VA to create a women veterans training module for community health care providers
  • Expands the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans’ mandate to include examining the effect of intimate partner violence on women veterans and creates a VA pilot program to care for survivors of intimate partner violence
  • Ensures that servicemembers and veterans seeking access to care and counseling related to military sexual trauma can seek this care at any VA health care facility, not just Vet Centers
  • Requires VA to enter into agreements with public or private entities to provide free legal services to women veterans to meet the following unmet needs: child support, eviction and foreclosure prevention, discharge upgrade appeals, financial guardianship, credit counseling, and family reconciliation assistance
  • Improves access to prosthetic items made specifically for women at VA medical facilities

Enhanced Health Care Services:

  • Waives VA requirements for receipt of per diem payments for domiciliary care at State Veterans Homes and modification of eligibility for payments
  • Prohibits the VHA from collecting co-payments from veterans who are members of a Native American tribal nation
  • Makes permanent a pilot program to provide childcare to veterans enrolled in the VA health care system and gives the VHA five years to implement the provision of childcare at every VA medical center
  • Requires State Veterans Homes to report on COVID-19 cases in these facilities to the VA
  • Requires the VA to pay for emergency transportation of newborns
  • Requires VA medical facilities to have drop-off locations for controlled substance medications
  • Mandates an annual audit of facility-level appointment scheduling, which VHA must share with Congress

Services for Homeless Veterans and Veterans at Risk of Homelessness:

  • Expands the HUD-VASH voucher program to veterans with other-than-honorable discharges  
  • Increases the amount of grant funds awarded to organizations providing services to homeless veterans to 115 percent of the State Veterans Home domiciliary rate, and allows for additional increases of grant funds in higher cost-of-living areas
  • Allows the VA to award grants to legal services organizations assisting veterans who are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness.
  • Requires the VA to study existing programs that provide assistance to women veterans who are homeless, with a goal of identifying continued areas of need.
  • Extends contracts for VA Homeless Veteran Case Managers to prevent gaps in services for homeless veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

VVA thanks you for answering the call to action; we look forward to more victories in 2021.

Widows Need DD-214s

Veterans need to be well organized when it comes to keeping records for our significant others. They will be stressed out enough dealing with our passing. They do not need the added chore of trying to find critical items necessary for planning funerals and other issues. What follows is a list of documents that are necessary to ensure that things get taken care of in a timely manner when we die.

The first item is a copy of your DD-214. This is the most important document relating to your military service. It shows a funeral director that you are a veteran and, in some cases, determines the level of services you are eligible for. If you are drawing benefits from the VA and you do not have a copy of your DD-214, log on to www.ebenefits.va.gov where you will be able to find and print a copy, as well as review your disability rating.

The second item is a copy of your award letter from the VA. This document shows what your disabilities are and their percentages. If you are a 100 percent permanent and totally disabled veteran, the letter will save your significant other a lot of headaches when it comes to filing for Dependent Indemnity Compensation. It also gives the physician who fills out the death certificate a list of conditions that should be named as contributing factors to the veteran’s death.

During the pandemic the primary cause of death listed for many veterans has been COVID-19. But the veteran’s service-connected conditions in most cases were contributing factors. COPD and diabetes, for example, often are contributing factors. By having the doctor list a service-connected condition as a contributing factor on the death certificate, the widow will not have any difficulty getting the DIC claim approved. As a 100 percent permanent and totally disabled veteran, you are authorized a free death insurance policy providing you filed for that benefit within two years after you received your rating award letter. Locate the phone number for the insurance agency and keep it with the policy.

Then you need to compile all the documents listed below. The items and all pertinent information should be kept in a folder.

  • Will
  • Do Not Resuscitate statement
  • Obituary
  • Funeral wishes
  • Passwords for computers and other items
  • List of people to contact other than family (old military buddies, etc.)

It’s also important to contact your nearest Casualty Assistance Office, which can help you file whatever documents are necessary for retirement pay and other issues.

If your significant other is not a member of a Veterans Service Organization, locate the nearest VSO that helps with filing DIC claims and performs graveside honors.

This list is by no means complete. However, it will give you a starting point and provide critical information necessary to take care of the most time-sensitive items.

AVVA offers a Paper Safe. Most funeral homes have guides, and will provide additional guidance. Please take the time and make this one of your priorities. As Vietnam veterans, we are all living on borrowed time.

For more information, see “Navigating the VA Widow’s Benefits Maze: Get the Facts and Don’t Give Up,” by Claudia Gary, in the July/August 2019 issue of The VVA Veteran.






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