Legislative Package Gets Unanimous Approval in the House, Signed by Trump, and Will Impact Thousands of Veterans
President Trump signed sweeping legislation that aims to help veterans facing a myriad of challenges. Homelessness, access to care for female and Native American veterans, toxic exposure, and the coronavirus are all addressed in the legislation.
Trump signed the bill on the 10th day following its passage in Congress, the final day for him to sign before the bill would have become law without his signature. Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas voiced his support for the bill that he describes as one that “provides support for every corner of our veteran community.”
With over 340 pages and dozens of measures, it is evident that the bill does in fact cover an array of issues that have negatively impacted our veterans. Named after the former republican leaders of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committee, the bill is dubbed “The Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe M.D. Veterans’ Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020.”
A large portion of the legislation focuses on improving coverage and services for female veterans. One of the most notable provisions creates a dedicated Office of Women’s Health at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Furthermore, the bill provides $20 million to retrofit VA hospitals with women’s health spaces and ensures the permanence of childcare at VA facilities. Additionally, every VA hospital is required to hire a dedicated women’s health provider.
“For nearly four years, IAVA has been working hard to see this legislation finally cross the finish line, and we can now send a powerful message to women veterans that our nation respects their service and will not tolerate substandard care for them at the VA,” said Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
The bill also aims to address a negative culture that women often face at VA facilities. The VA is mandated to create an anti-harassment and anti-sexual assault policy and hire designated workers at each facility to report on harassment. The legislation goes even further to help veterans suffering from military sexual trauma. Thousands of veterans, who have previously been denied benefits for military sexual trauma, will be affected by this provision of the legislation. A team, who specializes in military sexual trauma, will be put in place to process denied claims.
In regard to the coronavirus pandemic, the bill offers an easier path to federal grants for organizations that aid homeless veterans. These organizations include shelters that have been forced to renovate to account for social distancing and CDC guidelines. Each of the 162 state-run veterans’ homes must also regularly report on coronavirus case and death volume at their facilities. On February 4th, 2020, the VA is required to post these figures publicly.
Student veterans will also be impacted by the bill as it increases the legal protections for GI Bill benefits and places more scrutiny on schools that have previously taken advantage of beneficiaries. This provision of the legislation has been lobbied for by advocates for more than 10 years.
The legislative package also prohibits the VA from charging Native American copayments and will create a committee to advise the VA secretary on the unique set of challenges that tribal veterans face.