Higgins Announces Approval of Bill Providing Sweeping Improvements to Veteran Services
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) announced approval of legislation providing multiple improvements to veteran services. The legislation, a Senate Amendment to H.R. 7105, contains a measure that will provide permanent authorization for Kids Korner at the Buffalo VA, which Higgins has repeatedly fought for.
“Too often bureaucratic hurdles get in the way of providing our veterans and their families with the services they deserve,” said Higgins. “This legislation fixes several of these roadblocks. We are particularly pleased to win the battle to make sure a lack of access to childcare is never a barrier to veterans attending medical appointments.”
Below are some highlights of the comprehensive package:
Childcare for Veterans With Health & Mental Health Appointments at the VA:
Kids Korner opened at the Buffalo VA in 2011 as one of three pilot projects in the nation providing on-site childcare services while veterans, parents and grandparents, receive out-patient medical care. The program was set to expire in September of 2013. Congressman Higgins fought against closure that year and worked each and every year since then to see that the program’s authorization was extended through legislation. The VA Western New York Health Care System reports providing nearly 1,200 cases of child care services in 2019.
This bill ensures, once and for all, that childcare is available to veterans attending appointments related to their physical health and mental health at the Buffalo VA and VA sites across the nation.
COVID Relief for Veterans:
- Provides authority for the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to extend full education benefits through December 21, 2021 to veterans taking online courses. This allowance was scheduled to expire December 21, 2020.
- Presumes a COVID diagnosis for active service members is service-connected, making it easier for service members or their families to access related disability or death benefits.
- While the pandemic continues, waves the in-person application requirement for those seeking enrollment in the Veteran-Directed Care program, which provides in-home or community nursing services.
- Increases per-diem rates and expands eligible use of per diem payments, under the HUD-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program to provide veterans with necessities such as food, shelter, clothing and hygiene products.
Employment Opportunities for Veterans:
- Provides $45 million annually, through 2023, for a pilot program that trains veterans in high-demand, high-tech fields.
- Supports grants for organizations that assist veterans with resume and job search skills.
- Extends employment rights to National Guard members who serve for more than 14 days in response to a national emergency.
Improving Services for Female Service Members & Veterans:
- Establishes an Office of Women’s Health in the Veterans Health Administration assigned to identify deficiencies in care, expand services, and make primary care providers that specialize in women’s health available at every VA medical center and clinic.
- Expands coverage of veterans who give birth in a facility before reaching a VA facility and newborns of veterans who require specialty care in a facility outside the VA system.
Additional Veteran Benefits & Services:
- Creates a 2-year pilot program within the VA, in collaboration with community service providers, to connect veterans who are victims of domestic abuse or sexual assault with VA benefits.
- Extends the full burial benefit to all veterans regardless of where they are treated. Currently, a higher benefit of close to $800 is provided to veterans who die at a VA facility or from service-related conditions. A lower benefit of $300 is provided to the families of veterans who don’t meet that criteria. This change applies the same burial benefit to all veterans.
- Makes spouses and children of service members who died in the line of duty, but not on active duty, also eligible for the Fry Scholarship, which provides education benefits to the immediate family of deceased veterans.
- Lowers the age for spouses of deceased veterans who remarry to keep Dependence and Indemnity benefits from age 57 to age 55.
The legislative package, approved by both Houses of Congress, now moves to the President’s desk for approval.