After tedious debates lasting several months and with most of the contentious provisions left out, United States lawmakers finally passed a veterans omnibus bill in the final hours of a Congress’ legislative session session last week.
The draft destined for the president’s desk is basically a collection of the agreed upon items. It lacks accountability provisions that were championed by critics of the Department of Veterans Affairs, who made it clear that they did not believe the institution could effectively punish criminal employees. The draft also excluded a costly expansion planned for veteran caregiver benefits and the suggested trims to the post 9/11 GI bill that several veteran associations had protested.
It excluded an overhaul of VAs outside care programs and the benefits appeals process, both of which were priorities that the departmental heads had pleaded with the lawmakers to approve before the year’s end.
According to the bill, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims will be expanded from 7 to 9 judges over the next three years to help deal with the backlog of cases there.
Burial VA cemeteries may also be expanded to accommodate reservists with service-related training accidents and illnesses.
The revised health care provisions in the bill also included allowing veterans who served in classified missions to have access to mental healthcare treatment without the fear of security violations. It stated that the rules for employing mental health specialists were to be made easier.
Regardless of the issued raises, both House and Senate leaders hailed the passing of the bill as an important step towards better assistance for Veterans. They reiterated that the changes proposed were sure to boost health care and benefits access initiatives. According to Johnny Isakson, who is the Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and R-GA, the bill was some sort of down payment made in regards to the promise and debt owed to veterans.
The VA Secretary, McDonald, also shared his hopes that the bill would serve as a blueprint for President-elect Donald’s Trump administration in regards to Veterans Affairs.