House Panel Addresses Increases in Veterans Benefits

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House Panel Addresses Increases in Veterans Benefits


By Matt Fuller, CQ Staff

A House subcommittee advanced a legislation package Wednesday dealing with issues concerning veterans' compensation.

The House Veterans' Affairs Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee gave voice vote approval to a measure that would provide annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) to a number of veterans' compensation programs.

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Under the bill (HR 4142), the increase in benefit amounts for the veterans' compensation programs would be the same percentage as the Social Security COLA. Congress typically waits for the Social Security COLA to be released and then passes a similar adjustment for veterans' compensation programs. The measure would simply eliminate that legislative step.

Unlike the Social Security COLA, however, the benefits increase under the current legislation would not be rounded down to the nearest dollar. The "rounding down" provision, which was initially included in the legislation, was a point of contention for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and other veterans' groups.

At a March hearing on the legislation, Raymond Kelley, a VFW representative, characterized the "rounding down" provision as "a money-saving gimmick that comes at the expense of our veterans and their survivors."

"I appreciate the recommendations by the veterans' service organizations regarding the 'rounding down' authority and note that this language was omitted," said the panel's ranking member, Jerry McNerney, D-Calif.

The panel agreed to a substitute amendment from subcommittee chairman Jon Runyan, R-N.J., which incorporated language from a bill he previously introduced (HR 4213) to require that judges on the Court of Appeals of Veterans Claims reside within 50 miles of Washington, D.C. It also added language from a bill (HR 2051) previously introduced by Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, to provide burials for veteran remains identified by the Missing in America Project, and from HR 4168, previously introduced by Frank Guinta, R-N.H., to direct a study on the estimated costs of renovating the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines.

The subcommittee also gave voice vote approval to a measure that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to include the forms necessary for an appeal if a compensation claim is denied. The bill initially was intended to expedite the veterans compensation claims process. But at the March hearing on the legislation, McNerney expressed concern that the bill might "thwart efforts already under way in a provision already enacted into law" (PL 110-389). In response to the concern about duplicative legislation, McNerney offered a substitute amendment that would make the denied claims appeal the main focus of the bill.

The McNerney substitute amendment also included language from HR 2498 and HR 2717. Those bills would require the president to issue a proclamation every year calling for a two-minute moment of silence on Veterans Day, as well as direct the Veterans Affairs secretary to designate one city each year as an "American World War II City."

The subcommittee adopted the McNerney substitute amendment by voice vote.

Another bill (HR 4114) sponsored by Runyan also was advanced by the subcommittee. It exclusively deals with veterans' cost-of-living adjustments, and it too tied the veterans' benefit adjustment to the Social Security COLA, but it would include the "rounding down" provision.

Source: CQ Today Online News

Round-the-clock coverage of news from Capitol Hill.

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