We often advocate that Veteran inclusion within the ranks of Congress leads to more bipartisanship. Veterans who enter Congress have the shared experience and sacrifice of serving their country to preserve our shared Constitutional Rights. Politicians who have served are more likely to reach across party lines to get things done for the American people.
Likewise, it appears more and more that with the entrenchment of partisanship growing deeper in Washington, D.C., legislative issues which affect Veterans are one of the few topics in which politicians from both sides of the aisle are willing to work together. There are hundreds of Bills that go through our Legislative Branch, many of which never make it into law.
But in recent months, the House of Representatives has come together to pass at least ten bills addressing Veterans issues on a bipartisan basis.
The following list overviews five of these proposed bills which have been passed by the House and await Senate approval:
H.R. 2704 – Improving VA Accountability to Prevent Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Act of 2021
A recent and disturbing governmental watchdog report concluded that sexual harassment within the VA system has reached alarming levels. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that “according to estimates from a recent federal survey, 18 to 27 percent of VA employees experienced some form of sexual harassment at work from mid-2014 through mid-2016.” In response to this damning report, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) & Representatives Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Ashley Hinson (R-Iowa) introduced the Improving VA Accountability to Prevent Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Act of 2021. The bill seeks to improve reporting and oversight within the VA system, which the GAO noted “…does not require reporting of all sexual harassment complaints, has an improper leadership structure for overseeing their sexual harassment process, and has incomplete and outdated policies, information, and training.”
H.R. 2911 – The VA Transparency & Trust Act of 2021
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, the federal government has passed legislation printing trillions of dollars to be used to reinforce the economy and provide emergency funds for federal, state, and local concerns. As part of the American Rescue Plan, passed under the current Biden Administration, the VA would receive tens of billions of taxpayer dollars. The VA Transparency & Trust Act of 2021, introduced by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) & Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), would bring the spending of those funds under Congressional oversight. The oversight would include requiring “the VA to submit biweekly reports regarding obligations, expenditures, and planned uses of the funds until seven days after the VA has expended all covered funds.” The law would also require the VA to submit an interim and final report reviewing what the money is spent on.
H.R. 240 – The Homeless Veterans with Children Reintegration Act
According to Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA), “On any given day, there are more than 550,000 people experiencing homelessness in our country – and an estimated 40,000 of them are veterans.” That’s why she introduced The Homeless Veterans with Children Reintegration Act with broad bipartisan support. The bill, if passed, would prioritize “securing employment opportunities for homeless veterans with children and supporting critical resources for veterans to develop occupational skills, receive on-the-job training, attain apprenticeships, and help with job searches and placement.” The bill also seeks to expand access to shelter for Veterans with dependent children.
H.R. 2167 – The GI Bill National Emergency Extended Deadline Act
One of the great benefits of serving in the military is the opportunity to pursue higher education through the G.I. Bill. Legislation introduced by Democratic Congresswoman, Mikie Sherrill, and passed in the House with bipartisan support, would make sure that Veterans using the GI Bill would not lose out on eligibility due to Covid-19 related emergency measures taken by their schools. The GI Bill National Emergency Extended Deadline Act, specifically aims to “to provide for extensions of the time limitations for use of entitlement under Department of Veterans Affairs educational assistance programs by reason of school closures due to emergency…”
H.R. 2494 – Amend Title 38
One of the primary Veterans issues being addressed by the federal government in recent years is the assistance to Veterans to transition back into civilian life. Unacceptably high rates of Veteran suicides has rightfully focused on addressing mental health and substance abuse issues that many Veterans often fall prey to. But just as important is making sure there is a framework within the system to provide Veterans a new purpose once their service has ended. To Amend Title 38, United States Code, to Establish in the Department the Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration, and for Other Purposes Act, introduced by Republican Brad Wenstrup, aims to do just that. The bill, which has passed the House with bipartisan support, would establish a Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration, which would create vocational & employment programs, educational assistance programs, Veterans housing loan programs, amongst others. Before the new administration would be established, the VA must submit that the affected programs are ready to be transferred to its oversight and that the service to Veterans would not be negatively affected in doing so.
As a society, America loses far too many of its citizens each year to suicide. While this loss of life is incredibly tragic under any circumstances, its effects on our Veteran communities are especially heartbreaking.