Prepared Statement

VETERANS' INSURANCE AND HEALTH CARE IMPROVEMENTS ACT

Congressional Record Statement of Senator Daniel K. Akaka

Mr. President, I am pleased that the Senate is acting on H.R. 3219, the proposed ``Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010.'' The bill, as it comes before the Senate, is a compromise agreement developed with our counterparts on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. I thank Chairman Filner and Ranking Member Buyer of the House Committee for their cooperation on this legislation. I also thank my good friend, the committee's ranking member, Senator Burr, for his cooperation as we have developed this bill. A full explanation of the Senate and House negotiated agreement can be found in the Joint Explanatory Statement, which I will ask be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.

The amended bill, which I will refer to as the ``compromise agreement,'' contains ten titles that are designed to enhance compensation, housing, labor and education, burial, and insurance benefits for veterans . I will highlight a few of the provisions.

The compromise agreement would make several important improvements in insurance programs for disabled veterans . It would 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 would be 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 benefits package also includes a provision that will expand eligibility for retroactive benefits from traumatic injury protection coverage under the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance program, commonly referred to as TSGLI. Section 1032 of Public Law 109-13, the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005, established traumatic injury protection under the SGLI program. TSGLI went into effect on December 1, 2005. Therefore, all insured servicemembers under SGLI from that point forward are also insured under TSGLI and their injuries are covered regardless of where they occur. In order to provide assistance to those servicemembers who suffered traumatic injuries on or between October 7, 2001, and November 30, 2005, retroactive TSGLI payments were authorized under section 1032(c) of the Supplemental Appropriations Act to individuals whose qualifying losses were sustained ``as a direct result of injuries incurred in Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom.'' Under section 501(b) of Public Law 109-233, the Veterans' Housing Opportunity and Benefits Improvement Act of 2006, this definition was amended to allow retroactive payments to individuals whose qualifying losses were sustained ``as a direct result of a traumatic injury incurred in the theater of operations for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.''

However, without corrective action, men and women who were traumatically injured on or between October 7, 2001, and November 30, 2005, but were not in the OIF or OEF theaters of operation, will continue to be denied the same retroactive payment given to their wounded comrades. This legislation would correct that inequity.

This bill also modifies programs that provide adaptive assistance to veterans . It would increase and provide an index for an existing VA grant program, which provides funds to assist severely disabled veterans in purchasing automobiles or other conveyances that can accommodate their disabilities. The increase to $18,900 would help prevent erosion of the value and effectiveness of this benefit.

Another provision included in this bill would expand this grant program to provide automobile and adaptive equipment assistance to disabled veterans and servicemembers with severe burn injuries. Due to the severe damage done to their skin, individuals with these disabilities experience difficulty operating a standard automobile not equipped to accommodate their disabilities. This legislation would help them obtain vehicles with special adaptations for assistance in and out of the vehicle, seat comfort, and climate control.

Another key part of this legislation is a provision to help homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children. The majority of programs and service providers currently available to homeless veterans have historically been designed to assist male veterans . However, due to the increasing number of women serving in the Armed Forces, more than 5 percent of veterans requesting assistance from VA and community-based homeless veteran service providers are women. More than 10 percent of these women have dependent children. In addition, there are reports of a significant number of male homeless veterans who have dependent children as well. To meet these changing needs of our Nation's veterans and correct this inequity, this bill will establish a grant program for the reintegration of homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children into the labor force.

This bill would also increase to 2,700 the number of veterans who are authorized to enroll annually in a program of independent living services. This important program is designed to meet the needs of the most severely service-connected disabled veterans and more of those returning from combat have suffered the kind of devastating injuries that may make employment not reasonably feasible for extended periods of time.

This is not a comprehensive recitation of all the provisions within this legislation. However, I hope that I have provided an appropriate overview of the major benefits this legislation would provide for America's veterans and servicemembers. I urge our colleagues to support this important legislation that would benefit many of this Nation's more than 23 million veterans and their families. I also urge the House of Representatives to work on this matter expeditiously so that this may be sent to the President for his signature.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Joint Explanatory Statement, which was developed with our colleagues in the House, be printed in the Record.

September 28, 2010
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