The bill, S.1950, would reverse the recent cut in the cost-of-living increase for some military retirees, and would also establish advanced appropriations for veterans’ entitlements including disability benefits and retirement pay.
“During the last government shutdown, we were a week to 10 days away from retirees and disabled vets not getting the checks they depend on,” Sanders said. “That is unacceptable. I don’t think there is any member of Congress that wants to see that.”
The bill would also increase veterans’ access to dental and health care, improve the VA claims system, expand access to education benefits, and prioritize the hiring of veterans to fill federal jobs. “The economy is making modest improvements, but real unemployment is at 13%, and I worry very much about men and women in the National Guard and military coming out into the civilian economy and not getting jobs. This addresses that issue.”
Another provision would assist veterans suffering from reproductive issues, which Sanders says is related to the widespread use of improvised explosive device. “Some of the folks coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan are having difficulty having babies,” Sanders said. “It’s an issue we’ve been working on for years.” Another provision included in the bill would help expand the payment of stipends for family members caring for disabled veterans. Sanders said Congress passed a caregiver act for post-9/11 veterans and their families; his provision would extend the stipends to other veterans.
Sanders said the bill has earned the support of veterans’ organizations around the country. “The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has listened to the needs of veterans and organizations across the country, met with them time and time again, and as a result, this bill addresses many of the concerns veterans have raised over the years.”
Calling the veterans legislation a bipartisan bill, Sander said he expects the bill will find support from both sides of the aisle. He said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has given the bill top priority, although it’s uncertain when the Senate will vote on the bill. “I haven’t been on the phone with my Republican colleagues yet, but I can tell you that there are a number of provisions in this bill introduced by my Republicans colleagues on the (Senate Veterans’ Affairs) committee, and some not on the committee. In our committee, we’ve operated in a pretty bipartisan way. And I hope we’ll have (Republican) support.”
But with a price tag of $30 billion over 10 years, the bill could meet with resistance.
Although Sanders said the funding of the bill isn’t his decision to make, he proposes using the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund, which is essentially used for funding war operations. Currently funded at $92 billion, Sanders said there’s plenty of room in the fund to pay for veterans’ programs.
Sanders said he agrees that government spending and deficits are a concern, but for those members of Congress who may balk at the cost of the bill, Sander says there are priorities beyond deficit control. “The deficit is serious, and we’ve cut it in half,” he said. “But it’s not the only crisis facing this country.”
Calling the provisions in the bill “sensible,” Sanders said the country owes a debt to veterans and their families.
“Within our lifetimes, millions of men and women have put their lives on the line for us. These service members have paid a very high price for their service. The price is a lot higher than most people perceive. My belief is that we’ve got to do everything possible to give back to them and their families, to make them whole.”