The members of the American military have been putting their lives at risk to defend our country since our founding. As they protect our way of life, they deserve to have what they need to get the job done. When they come home and enter retirement as veterans, they should be treated with respect and service by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). I want to highlight the ways that Congress has worked in a bipartisan fashion to reform the VA and give our veterans the benefits they deserve.
In 2016, the U.S. Senate passed my legislation, the CHIP IN for Vets Act. This bill allowed local communities to assist with the planning and construction of VA health care facilities. We realized that local planners understand the needs of veterans of their community better than Washington bureaucrats do, and Omaha became one of the first cities to use this new flexibility to help build better facilities.
Congress hasn’t stopped there.
In June of last year, Congress built on our reforms of the VA by enacting the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, a bipartisan law that continued reforming the VA after it had failed some of our most vulnerable veterans. This bill will make a difference in how the VA operates when it comes firing employees who are not serving veterans well.
The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act ended bad employment practices that left too many veterans at risk while protecting whistleblowers. It also mandated that every VA employee take training on whistleblowing and gave the leaders of the VA some flexibility in disciplining or firing bad employees. So far over 1,500 employees who performed poorly have been removed from their jobs while nearly 70 whistleblowers have spoken out to protect our veterans.
We also reformed the appeals process for claims. There are nearly 470,000 veterans who find themselves waiting to hear a decision on their appeal claims. That’s wrong, and Congress needed to make a change. That’s why we enacted The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, which streamlined how appeal decisions are determined. This will make wait times shorter and reviews more efficient. Veterans groups from all over the country have applauded this reform.
We have also made it easier for veterans to pay for schooling by passing the Forever GI Bill, which the president signed into law this past summer. This law removed expiration dates, often called the use-it-or-lose-it rule, that limited veterans to a window of 15 years to use their GI benefits. Those who were discharged or released from active duty on or after January 1, 2013, will now never see their GI benefits expire.
This new law also made changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill for Purple Heart benefits. Veterans awarded with a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, will receive benefits at the 100-percent level for up to three years. This will be effective starting August 1, 2018, and will cover tuition at public schools at the in-state rate, books, and housing.
Our nation, and the freedom to make the most of our lives, could not exist without the valor shown by those currently serving or who have served in our military. That’s why we recently included action to further reduce the backlog at the VA and help it operate as efficiently and effectively as possible in the budget agreement for the next two years.
Veterans deserve to be treated with the respect and honor that comes from putting their lives on the line to keep our country safe. I was happy to support these three bills that will make the lives of our veterans a little easier. If you are a veteran or know a veteran, who needs assistance with benefits or the VA, please contact my office. My staff and I will be happy to assist you.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.