WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Military Construction (MILCON), Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, secured provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act that would provide essential resources to help New Mexico veterans get the health care, employment, and housing support they need during this unprecedented time.
"Veterans in New Mexico are facing unprecedented economic hardships and health concerns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. That's why I fought to make sure that critical provisions are included in the American Rescue Plan Act to bolster VA health benefits and give our nation's veterans the assistance they need to get back on their feet," said Heinrich.
Senator Heinrich championed a measure that allows VA to waive copays that would otherwise be charged to veterans for VA health care services during this unprecedented health emergency and reimburses veterans who have already submitted payments.
As the chair of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees VA funding, Senator Heinrich remains committed to securing the resources and funding the VA needs to keep America's promise to our service members and their families when they return home as veterans. These resources include funding to improve telehealth services for rural veterans, provide better health care and housing assistance for veterans experiencing homelessness, and ensure a robust COVID-19 vaccination program through the entire VA system.
Following passage in the Senate today, the American Rescue Plan Act now goes back to the House, which must approve it before sending the legislation to the president's desk.
Senator Heinrich announced the following provisions in the American Rescue Plan Act:
- Provide critical funding for the Veterans Health Administration (VHA): Provides $14.5 billion for health care services and additional resources to care for our nation's veterans. Because of COVID-19, VA needs this additional support to cover the impact of delays in care, more expensive care due to putting off needed care, and more reliance on VA due to economic strain. This funding will also help continue CARES Act-supported VA programs to prevent suicide, provide women's health care, serve homeless veterans, and expand telehealth.
- Prohibit copayments for medical care for veterans during the pandemic: Allows VA to waive copays that would otherwise be charged to veterans for VA health care services during this unprecedented health emergency and reimburses veterans who have already submitted payments.
- Secure assistance for unemployed veterans: Provides nearly $400 million to help get veterans back to work by funding up to 12 months of rapid retraining assistance and a housing allowance for veterans who are unemployed as a result of the pandemic and do not receive other veteran education benefits.
- Increase claims and appeals processing to reduce the backlog caused by COVID-19: Provides VA $272 million to mitigate the backlog in claims processing caused by the pandemic. This additional funding will help cover overtime costs so staff can work through these delays and help the Board of Veterans' Appeals conduct more telehearings. Additionally, a significant portion of these funds will help digitize and improve access to veterans' military records so that veterans can get more timely responses to their requests for VA benefits.
- Bolster VA's supply chain modernization: The pandemic has exposed weaknesses in VA's medical supply chain. This legislation provides $100 million in funding to accelerate VA's supply chain modernization, which is crucial for improving the Administration's public health emergency response.
- Support State Veterans Homes: Provides $500 million to help states upgrade State Veterans Homes across the country and $250 million in one- time emergency payments to support these facilities and ensure they can care for our veterans during the pandemic.
- Fund stronger oversight through VA's Office of Inspector General (OIG): Provides $10 million to help VA's OIG continue their stringent oversight of VA's response to the pandemic.
- Emergency Employee Leave Fund: Includes $80 million to provide certain VHA personnel with paid emergency leave - renewing VA's commitment to those employees who have worked to care for veterans during the pandemic.