Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Ranking Democrat Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and others released on April 28 the Veterans First Act, veterans legislation, anticipated since the February 9 House passage of similar legislation that contained a huge cut to the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Within the legislation there are many provisions supported by IAVA that would improve veterans health care, housing, education, and economic opportunities. These provisions include:
- Increasing VA accountability by making it easier to remove employees based on performance or misconduct (although we’re concerned the Senate’s omnibus VA accountability provisions may not be strong enough).
- Providing better protection to VA whistleblowers and require reports on the methods used to investigate VA employees.
- Requiring the VA to create a fully-developed appeals pilot program.
- Strengthening administrative procedures for care of veterans in the community.
- Increasing the pension for Medal of Honor recipients.
- Making permanent the maximum number of judges on the Veterans Claims Court of Appeals to nine.
- Requiring the VA to establish procedures for veterans that served on classified missions to be able to get mental health care without compromising classified information.
- Requiring the VA to work with with National Academy of Medicine to conduct research relating to the descendants of veterans with toxic exposure.
- Allowing Fry Scholarship recipients (children and spouses of fallen Post-9/11 service members who receive GI Bill benefits) to take part in the Yellow Ribbon Program (allows private schools to work with the VA to waive some tuition costs to veteran students.)
- Capping tuition and fee payments to flight training programs paid through the Post-9/11 Bill due to a loophole that allows flight schools to abuse GI Bill benefits.
The Veterans First Act was welcome news to IAVA when we heard committee leaders tell reporters that a 50 percent monthly housing allowance cut for military children (which the House included in theirs) was not included in the Senate package. The Senate also dropped a plan to increase the years of service required for service members to transfer the benefit to dependents.
However, the Senate included a $3.4 billion cut to the housing allowance over 5 years for all veterans and their families using the Post-9/11 GI Bill through annual cuts ending in Fiscal Year 2019. Congress says these cuts are needed to pay for the new provisions, but we know if they wanted to find the money elsewhere they could.
Because of these cuts IAVA opposes both the House and Senate versions of the legislation as cuts to the Post-9/11 GI Bill break the promise made to service members when they joined the military. Make no mistake, if Congress gets away with using the GI Bill as a piggy bank now they will come back year after year to use it to pay for other government programs.
Our decision to oppose the legislation was not easy to make as IAVA supports many provisions within the bills. As beneficial as these provisions are though, we won’t stand idly by and let the Post-9/11 Gill be used as a piggy bank to fund them.
If Congress is truly serious about taking care of veterans then it shouldn’t pass veterans legislation that cuts their GI Bill benefits. For Congressional leaders it boils down to a foolish scenario that they set up (in an election year no less!): trying to help veterans through new veterans programs, but also robbing those same veterans of their educational benefits to pay for those programs.
IAVA refuses to accept this scenario. Doing so is an insult to the post-9/11 veterans that have served our nation and servicemembers that continue to serve. This fight isn’t over yet. Help IAVA defend the GI Bill by visiting our Take Action page to make your views heard by Congress!