WASHINGTON— The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved a veterans benefits package that includes provisions authored and championed by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) including plans to cut down the increasing backlog of disability compensation and pension (C&P) exams and the expansion of wartime benefits for certain Vietnam veterans.
The Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020 would improve benefits for education, pensions, burial, compensation and other vital services veterans have earned.
“Committee passage of this legislation is a good step to fulfilling the commitment we made to the men and women who serve in uniform. I’m proud to work on behalf of veterans to advance policies that will improve their lives and will continue to ensure they receive the services and benefits they have earned,” Boozman said.
The legislation includes Boozman’s measure aimed at reducing the backlog of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation and disability exams and claims by allowing additional medical professionals to perform C&P exams.
Many veterans are required to complete a C&P exam to verify their medical condition and eligibility when applying for VA benefits. The backlog has drastically grown to 600,000 as a result of the VA’s temporary suspension of exams during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The bill also incorporates the Forgotten Vietnam Veterans Act, legislation introduced by Boozman and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) to expand wartime benefits to veterans who served in the Vietnam War and have been ineligible for assistance because of differences between the war era dates at the Department of Defense (DoD) and the VA.
Currently, DoD recognizes the Vietnam War era as November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975 while the VA recognizes the Vietnam War era as February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975. This discrepancy has prevented members of the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) from qualifying for wartime veterans benefits like the veterans pension. MAAG is a designation for U.S. military advisors sent to other countries to assist in the training of conventional armed forces and facilitate military aid. More than 3,200 MAAGs served during the Vietnam War.
Additional Boozman-led provisions in the Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020 include:
- Authorizing the VA to put the names of veterans’ family members on headstones in private cemeteries. Currently, the VA is only allowed to put veterans’ family members’ names on headstones in national, state veterans’ and tribal veterans’ cemeteries.
- Updating VA funeral benefits to treat all non-service connected deaths equally, regardless of where the veteran passes away.
- Modernizing the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to permit servicemembers to deliver notice of termination of residential and car leases electronically, including by email.
- Expanding the list of work-study activities that that qualify for payment of work-study allowances under VA’s rehabilitation, training and education programs.