New Coronavirus Relief Plan Has Billions Going Towards Veterans Programs
The nearly 2 trillion dollars in the coronavirus relief package contains billions in funds for veteran relief programs. $17 billion in extra funds for veterans programs was suggested to help mitigate the health and employment challenges related to the pandemic.
Republican lawmakers are hesitant to embrace the vast provisions of the new relief bill. They are concerned that the extra funds won’t have a direct impact on veterans and claim that the VA leaders have not given enough evidence to support this impact on veterans.
After these lawmakers were denied a push to delay the consideration of the package, the plan passed in the House along party lines. Representative Mark Takano, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, stated that “The American people want [this] rescue plan adopted, and, without any doubt, the needs of our veterans must also be met … It is important that we not leave veterans out of the consideration of this package.”
The largest share of the veteran relief provisions comes from new VA health care support services. Approximately $13.5 billion will be set aside to cover the costs of delays in care and additional care costs due to veterans putting off their care. Also included under this umbrella is support combatting the economic impacts of the pandemic on veterans. $4 billion would be set aside specifically for outside care programs, meaning private-sector physicians.
Enhancing treatment of veterans in the pandemic is another major priority of the package and has been allotted $750 million. This would go towards things like personal protective equipment, expanding staff levels, and enhancing cleaning services.
The bill also aims to tackle veteran unemployment due to the pandemic. $400 million of the relief package will go towards new rapid retraining programs for veterans who lost their jobs during the pandemic. This idea is supported by both sides of the aisle and would only be available for veterans that have exhausted their other education benefits.
During the pandemic, the backlog of benefits applications that have not been reviewed has skyrocketed due to closures. The package also addresses this problem with another $272 million specifically aimed at processing this backlog. This money would also be used to reimburse co-payments made for VA medical appointments between April 6th, 2020 and September 30th, 2021.
Republicans claimed that these broad outlines don’t give enough detail into how the new money will be spent. They also point to the fact that billions in earlier relief funds for the VA have not yet been exhausted. “We do not know how they came up with that (funding) amount. We do not know why it is needed. We do not know what is going to be used for,” said committee ranking member Mike Bost, R-Ill. “Our constituents did not send us here to give only a passing glance as billions of their hard-earned dollars go out the door.”