Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) voted to advance an omnibus veterans bill that includes key provisions he fought for on behalf of veterans and military families across New Mexico.
S.1982, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act, introduced by the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Senator Bernie Sanders, and cosponsored by Senator Heinrich, passed by a vote of 99-0 today -- clearing the way for a Senate debate on the bill.
The omnibus veterans bill includes language from the Veterans Benefits Claims Faster Filing Act, legislation Senator Heinrich introduced last June, which requires the Secretary of the Veterans Administration to ensure every veteran is informed of the vast differences in times for processing compensation claims when filing a fully developed claim versus a non-fully developed claim.
"Too many veterans are waiting far too long to receive the benefits they have earned. I'm pleased to have secured this important provision to help accelerate the claims process and reduce the backlog," said Senator Heinrich.
The veterans omnibus bill also includes a measure cosponsored by Senator Heinrich to provide "advanced appropriations" for all VA spending accounts. This would ensure veterans receive uninterrupted access to earned benefits even in the midst of a government shutdown, like the one that occurred last fall.
"This commonsense proposal strengthens our commitment to our men and women in uniform who have risked their lives to protect our country. Breaking the disability claims backlog is one of my top priorities and accelerating the disability claims process is one way to do that. I am also proud to have helped lead the effort to ensure that our former service members don't fall victim to partisan politics of a government shutdown. New Mexico is home to more than 170,000 veterans, and I will continue to work to guarantee they receive the benefits and quality care that they have earned," said Senator Heinrich.
Additionally, the veterans omnibus bill authorizes $9.56 million for a major medical facility lease in Albuquerque for the Clinical Research and Pharmacy Coordinating Center (CRPCC). The CRPCC supports clinical trials conducted to improve the health care of veterans and the nation and is the only facility of its type in the VA or federal government.
The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act also includes:
Restoration of Full COLA for Military Retirees: This legislation would restore full cost-of-living adjustments for all military retirees.
VA Health Care and Dental Care Expansion: This legislation includes provisions that would expand access to VA health care -- including complementary and alternative medicine -- and dental care, in a cost-effective and equitable way.
Advanced Appropriations for VA: This legislation would ensure veterans receive consistent access to the benefits they have earned by establishing advanced appropriations for the mandatory accounts at VA.
In-State Tuition Assistance for Post-9/11 Veterans: This legislation would give our transitioning service members a fair shot at attaining their educational goals without incurring an additional financial burden.
Renew Our VOW to Hire Heroes: This legislation would reauthorize provisions from the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, including a two-year extension for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program.
Sexual Assault: This legislation contains important provisions that would improve the delivery of care and benefits to veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military, which were inspired by Ruth Moore who struggled for 23-years to receive VA disability compensation.
Reproductive Health: This legislation would help female and male veterans who have suffered significant spinal cord, reproductive and urinary tract injuries start a family.
Service Members Civil Relief Act: This legislation would enhance and improve the protections of the Service Members Civil Relief Act, which are of particular importance to members of the Reserve Components during periods of active military service.
Expands the Caregivers Program: This legislation would provide caregiver benefits to veterans of all generations in a similar manner as post-9/11 veterans.