Ms. BROWN of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
I rise in support of H.R. 3016, as amended, the VA Provider Equity Act.
The provisions of title I directly affect the health of veterans by making podiatrists equal to other doctors in the VA, by making Medal of Honor recipients a top priority in receiving health care at the VA, and by making the newborn babies of servicemembers eligible for VA health care in the first 6 weeks of life, to follow their mothers' eligibility at the VA.
The legislation authorizes a GAO audit of the Veterans Health Administration's budget. I feel that the Veterans Health Administration has been more responsive under the leadership of Dr. David Shulkin, but I agree that everyone would be better informed of how the VHA is working if we are all starting on the same page. I am also pleased that a successful dog training program will be expanded to other parts of the country to help veterans who are recovering from TBI and PTSD.
I am particularly pleased to support provisions in H.R. 3016 which improve the veterans' education and rehabilitation program and which increase limits on the veterans' home loan program while maintaining the VA's strict lending requirements.
H.R. 3016 also contains several important improvements in education and employment programs for veterans. Representative Takano will have more to say because he has taken the lead on these as the ranking member of the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee.
I also want to thank Chairman Miller for compromising on the establishment of a new administration within the VA, called the Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration.
While I appreciate the chairman's attempt to compromise on another key provision, I want to make it clear that I oppose the policy to cut in half the living stipend for the children of servicemembers who have received their [Page: H612]
parents' transferred GI Bill benefits. We promised the men and women who signed up to serve in our Nation's military that they would be able to transfer their entire GI Bill benefits to a dependent spouse or child. It is unfair
that we are now breaking part of that promise. While I understand that this change pays for the other essential provisions in this bill, I would have preferred that we would have kept the promise we made to servicemembers while finding other ways to pay for this package.
As this legislation moves forward, I will continue to work with my colleagues to find a different way to pay for these provisions that does not violate the promise we made to our veterans.
I had hoped our Republican colleagues would have brought this bill to the floor under an open rule so as to have given us the opportunity to propose amendments and to debate ways to improve the more controversial provisions of this bill. I am disappointed that we are not able to offer amendments to improve the bill today. Yet I will support this bill overall due to the number of positive improvements.
Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. WENSTRUP. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 3016, the Veterans Employment, Education, and Healthcare Improvement Act, as amended.
I am proud to sponsor this bill and am glad to be joined by veteran service organizations in their support, like the VFW and the DAV. It will help ensure that the veterans receive the benefits they have earned.
This veterans' legislation contains over 30 provisions from over a dozen Members of Congress and is the result of countless hours of work amongst the members of the committee. I want to highlight three specific provisions in the bill that improve the benefits our veterans receive.
First is the VA Provider Equity Act, which would strengthen access to the comprehensive, first-class health care that veterans deserve. We all know wait times for health care at the VA remain somewhat unacceptable in many places. This is true, in part, because the VA struggles to employ enough healthcare specialists to meet the needs of veterans.
The VA Provider Equity Act responds to this issue by aligning outdated VA standards more closely with the private sector practices of today. When introduced, every doctor on the Committee on Veterans' Affairs joined as an original cosponsor, understanding that we need to make it easier for the VA to recruit and retain the specialists our veterans so desperately need.
The bill also includes H.R. 2344, the Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Improvement Act of 2015, which I introduced earlier this year. The VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program helps disabled veterans to prepare for employment or to live as independently as possible. If a veteran chooses to pursue education or training through this program, current law does not require the courses to be approved for GI benefits. My provision would tighten this requirement to provide
additional oversight and protections for our veterans.
We also include the GI Bill Quality Enhancement Act. By giving State Approving Agencies the increased oversight of GI Bill programs, this provision would provide veterans with the information they need to make good choices about education and training programs that offer the best quality.
The Veterans Employment, Education, and Healthcare Improvement Act would make important progress in streamlining veterans' access to their earned benefits. It is one simple step we can take to ensure that our veterans receive the benefits they have earned.
I thank Representative Takano for his help in moving this forward, and I urge my colleagues to support it.
Mr. TAKANO. I thank Ranking Member Corrine Brown for yielding time.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 3016.
While there are parts of this bill that I hope to see changed as it moves forward, it includes numerous provisions that will have a positive impact on our Nation's veteran population, including several provisions I authored.
Section 307 of this bill is the language from my GI Bill Fairness Act, bipartisan legislation to close a gap faced by our National Guardsmen and Reservists who have been repeatedly called to war throughout operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Currently, members of the Guard and Reserve who are wounded in combat are sometimes placed on Active Duty for their recovery, treatment, and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, current Federal law does not recognize such Active Duty orders as eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill education assistance, meaning that, unlike other members of the military, those who serve in the Guard and Reserve may actually lose benefits for being injured in the line of duty. This provision in H.R. 3016 would end unequal treatment
and ensure these guardsmen and reservists are able to accrue GI Bill benefits, when ordered to Active Duty, for the purposes of receiving medical care.
H.R. 3016 also includes my Work-Study for Student Veterans Act, which would reinstate certain VA work-study activities that expired on June 30, 2013. The VA's Student Work-Study Allowance Program allows qualifying student veterans who are in college degree programs or in vocational or professional programs to be paid for working in a variety of capacities on campus, at VA facilities, or at other veteran-centered organizations to assist fellow veterans. The work-study program achieves two important
goals: offering student veterans a way to earn a little extra money and providing transitioning veterans with the guidance and assistance of fellow veterans who know firsthand what that transition is like.
I also strongly support section 306 of the bill, which caps the amount of post-9/11 GI Bill funds available to flight schools--private flight schools--that contract with community colleges at the same amount that the GI Bill caps funds available to private universities.
Due to a current loophole in the GI Bill, student veterans have been able to take pilot training classes with questionable job placement prospects at exorbitant cost to the taxpayers. According to the Los Angeles Times, one flight company charged 12 student veterans over $500,000 each in GI Bill funds.
While it is true that flight training can be more expensive than other vocational or academic programs, VA data shows that while the number of student veterans taking flight training increased by only 9 percent between fiscal years '13 and '14, the total cost to taxpayers for this program grew by 87 percent during this same period, costing $37 million in taxpayer dollars.
The drafters of the GI Bill never intended to create this windfall for the flight school industry. What's more, VFW and the American Legion support the cap, agreeing that this loophole is a disservice to student veterans who would be better served by one of the many flight school programs that cost well under the cap.
I do have serious reservations about section 301 of this legislation, which would cut by half the monthly housing allowance provided to children of servicemembers who will have post-9/11 GI Bill benefits transferred to them. I don't believe that we should be paying for the great provisions in this bill by cutting benefits.
Furthermore, the bill on the House floor today does not include a grandfather clause. That means that some current servicemembers will see the terms that they agreed to when they signed up changed. As this bill advances, I strongly urge the chairman and ranking member to find another pay-for and eliminate section 301.
With that being said, I believe overall, with some tweaks, this legislation will provide valuable support for our veterans, and I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 3016.
Mr. ABRAHAM. Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Brown, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Ranking Member Titus, and all Members who worked so hard to bring this bill to the floor.
There are many provisions in H.R. 677, as amended, that would help improve services for veterans and their families, but I want to focus my remarks on a section that I am proud to have authored.
First, the bill would authorize an automatic COLA for beneficiaries who receive the VA disability compensation. Although the Congress generally approves COLA legislation every year, veterans have to wait until Congress actually acts.
Mr. WALZ. Mr. Speaker, as you have heard, I associate myself with the remarks of the positive nature of the provisions in this bill. It has been the House Veterans' Affairs Committee that has been in the forefront of improving veterans care, from the post-9/11 GI Bill, to healthcare changes, to job placements. We have been at the forefront of VA improvements, accountability, and reform.
While this bill continues in that vein, as you have heard here, there is one provision in it that, for me personally, I cannot cross. To pay for these programs, an offset has to be found. That is a noble and correct principle; meaning, if we add anything, we need to find the pay-for somewhere else to not add to the debt.
In the case of this, to pay for these absolutely wonderful programs, many which I helped write, we went back and we took a benefit. I am not going to debate whether that benefit was overly generous. I am not going to debate how many are using it.
If one veteran signed up, served this Nation, went overseas and fought for our defense and they were promised a benefit, to pull it back at this time is an egregious breach of trust. At a time when the VA is hurting, at a time when the faith in government is hurting, the faith in the media, our soldiers need to know there are some things that will not be crossed.
So I want to be very clear on this. The motives of the people who worked on this should never be questioned. I have never seen people with more integrity and more care for our veterans. Thought goes into this. Improvements try to be made. And when the American people are frustrated and they see nothing gets done, this committee and the bipartisanship of the care of our veterans is absolutely paramount.
This is a devilish situation. How do we find the pay-for? My question is--and, yes, perhaps it is a chip on my shoulder of an enlisted soldier--why come to the soldiers first? There is nowhere else in the Federal Government that we can find this.
The chairman rightfully pointed out today another egregious waste of money in decorating and bonuses to VA officials who are not fulfilling their duty. My question is: can't we find some way to at least get the people through who were there and, if we want to make the changes, do so? I know every effort in good faith has been made to do that. Yes, it can be argued that this was overly generous and should not have been there in the first place, but it was. It was signed up for and people went.
I have stood in front of troops who said: You promised it to me, and I am counting on using it.
It seems to me that as Representatives of the American people, I can go back and ask my constituents, and they will agree on almost nothing. If I ask them, ``Should we do everything necessary to care for our veterans,'' the answer is ``yes.'' If we can't find the offset, then let's have the courage to go back and ask them what would they be willing to do.
I myself will be voting ``no'' on this piece of
legislation, but I just urge my colleagues to have to weigh this. I hope over the years that I have proven I am not a person who would get in the way of having the perfect get in the way of the good or not trying to work for compromises. It is a line that I feel, if we cross, the trust gets breached, and it is very difficult to gain it back.
I thank all Members who worked on this.
Mr. MILLER of Florida. I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Speaker, to my good friend from Minnesota (Mr. Walz), who is a stalwart supporter of veterans on our committee and brings many, many good issues to the forefront for both sides of the aisle to be able to work on together, I do not question his motives in his negative vote against this bill.
I would say that any child who has already had their parents' post-9/11 child benefits transferred to them will not be affected by this change. They would still receive 100 percent of their current living stipend.
It also gives 180 days after enactment before it begins to take effect. So any servicemembers who are eligible to transfer their benefits but have not done so would have 180 days to do so, so their child would still receive 100 percent of their monthly stipend.
I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from the 15th Congressional District of Ohio (Mr. Stivers).
Mr. STIVERS. Mr. Speaker, I thank the chairman and the folks on the committee for their great work on this bill. I stand today to support the bill and also to recognize one of the sections is the Veterans Dog Therapy Act, which was rolled into H.R. 3016.
We lose 22 of our former servicemembers every day to suicide. This legislation will create a pilot program at three to five of our VA facilities, which is modeled on the Warrior Canine Connection program for getting access to service dogs for our veterans.
Veterans enrolled in this program with service dogs have seen improvements in their PTSD and TBI-related symptoms. Additionally, it is shown that veterans who own service dogs have fewer symptoms of depression, better interpersonal skills, a lowered risk of substance abuse, and better overall mental health. While no one thing can help cure our suicide epidemic among veterans, this is a good start.
I want to thank Tim Walz for being my cosponsor on this bill. I am glad it is rolled in.
I urge my colleagues to support this provision as well as the entire bill.
Mr. COLLINS of Georgia. Mr. Speaker, today I rise in support of H.R. 3016, the Veterans Employment, Education, and Healthcare Improvement Act.
I want to thank the chairman for yielding and his leadership. As we have heard today, this is something that truly does bring us together. As someone who continues to serve in the Air Force and looking at my brothers and sisters in arms, this is something we should be about.
I want to thank my colleague from Ohio (Mr. Wenstrup) for bringing this important legislation to the floor, including language from my legislation, H.R. 423, concerning VA post-delivery care services.
I also want to thank Dr. Roe from Tennessee for his amendment that would extend the coverage for a female veteran's post-delivery care to 42 days.
Female veterans face unique challenges, especially when many of the services available to them are designed for males. One of the most significant problems female veterans face is access to health care.
Currently, the VA is authorized to provide up to 7 days of post-delivery care for a female veteran's newborn baby. Mr. Roe's amendment will expand coverage to 42 days, the length that the VA currently provides for mothers.
Females represent the fastest growing group of veterans who are enrolling in VA health care, and many of them are mothers or soon will be. It is past time for the VA to expand its care and services to meet the needs of the female veteran. These women have risked their lives to protect our Nation, and our responsibility to them doesn't end when they are no longer serving on Active Duty. In fact, their service to our country may jeopardize the very lives of their future children, meaning our responsibility
to them is even greater.
Research shows that having PTSD in the year before delivery increases a [Page: H614]
woman's risk of premature delivery by 35 percent. Premature infants typically need longer hospitalizations after they are born. I know what it is like to be the parent of a little baby who needed intensive medical care for an extended period of time from the moment she was born. By the way, she is getting ready to turn 24 right now.
Any new mother who has given selflessly to her country shouldn't have to worry about Congress standing in her way as she tries to give selflessly to her own child.
I thank my colleague and Chairman Miller for their leadership on this issue, and I would urge the passage of this bill.