Veterans Day — a day to honor veterans for their service to our nation — is a good time to take stock of where we are in ensuring that they have access to quality health care and other services that support their enduring commitment. So far this year, Congress has passed and President Trump has signed into law the following important veterans-related legislation that I supported:
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 overhauls the current U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs appeals process and replaces it with a new multi-track system to ensure veterans and their families receive timelier decisions on essential benefits provided by the VA. I co-sponsored this legislation, as Idaho veterans have shared detailed personal accounts of how the VA claims appeals process could better serve veterans.
The VA Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 provides resources to keep the Veterans Choice Program running; authorizes various veterans home leases; and makes improvements to certain hiring and personnel-management practices at the VA. Earlier this year, similar legislation was enacted that extends the sunset date for the Choice program through January 2018; makes the VA the primary payer for all care through the Choice program; and contains provisions to improve records-keeping for veterans who use the Choice program. Neither of these laws fix all the problems with the Choice program; Idaho veterans and their family members have made clear that it does not work for Idahoans. Rather, this extension helps ensure that veterans dependent on the Choice program are not left in the lurch while work continues to address the problems — including cumbersome eligibility requirements and payment delays.
The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Education Assistance Act enacts a variety of improvements to eligibility for and utilization of veterans’ educational assistance (GI Bill) benefits. The law includes legislation — known as the Shauna Hill Post-9/11 Education Benefits Transferability Act — introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho. I joined Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, in introducing the companion legislation in the Senate. This provision, named for Idahoan Shauna Hill who was killed in an automobile accident, enables veterans to reassign educational benefits in the event the original recipient dies.
This is not a comprehensive list, but rather highlights of what Congress has been able to accomplish for veterans so far this year. I also continue to work with veterans and the VA directly to address individual issues through casework — which has resulted in the return of $2.1 million in claims and medical benefits to Idaho veterans from the VA so far this year. If you find yourself in need of assistance with a specific agency, please contact staff in one of my regional offices to discuss your situation. Contact information, the required privacy release form and frequently asked questions can be accessed through my official website at www.crapo.senate.gov.
Despite progress, we definitely have more to do to ensure that federal policy is increasingly responsive to Idaho veterans and their needs. I introduced SB1279 — the Veterans Health Administration Reform Act of 2017 — to address concerns raised by Idaho veterans with the Veterans Choice Program. These efforts will improve this program and make it easier for Idaho veterans to access care. I look forward to working to enact this and other pending legislation to improve veterans programs.
The input of Idaho veterans and learning from their experiences have guided my support for veterans-related legislation and policy changes. Please keep sharing your insights as work continues to ensure our nation effectively supports the service of our nation’s veterans every Veterans Day.