No veteran should face living on the street or have trouble accessing benefits they earned. This month, Congress passed a bipartisan bill written by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to address these important issues. As a member of the Committee, I worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to include provisions to support veterans and their families. President Obama signed our Veterans Health Care and Benefits Act into law last Friday, helping to protect our nation’s heroes and honor them with the benefits they deserve.
We know that, shamefully, too many veterans don’t have a roof over their heads or a place to call home. Last year, I visited organizations across Ohio that are doing wonderful work to give veterans the support they need to get back on their feet and find permanent homes. Through a combination of increased federal investments and improved services, we have made real progress towards ending veterans’ homelessness – but there’s still more to be done. With this law, we’re going to give those organizations like these the funding and support they need.
It will also encourage landlords to rent to veterans and expand the definition of a “homeless veteran,” to include veterans fleeing domestic abuse, making them eligible for additional supportive services.
Even one veteran on the street means Congress isn’t doing enough to tackle this problem. We’ve set national performance targets to hold VA accountable and ensure resources set aside for these veterans are being used to help veterans secure a permanent home.
We’ve also inserted provisions in this bill that will help servicemembers as they access their benefits. The bill will help reduce the claims backlog too many of our veterans are facing today. We’re going to temporarily expand the number of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims from seven to nine so the Court can hear more cases and more veterans can get the benefits they’re owed.
The Veterans Health Care and Benefits Act doesn’t just stop at honoring veterans. We recognize the sacrifice that servicemembers’ families make every day and we’re working to give them the benefits they deserve.
The Fry Scholarship provides educational GI Bill benefits to surviving spouses and children of servicemembers who have died in the line of duty since 9/11. However, when Congress extended the benefit to spouses in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, a 15-year limitation was put on these benefits.
Melissa Twine, an Air Force veteran from Batavia, discussed with my office the challenges that this limitation put on her. Her husband, Captain Philip Twine, died serving our country in the Air Force in 2002, meaning that now, as Melissa tries to go back to school to pursue her master’s degree, she and so many other surviving spouses don’t have the time to use these benefits. Now that our fix is law, Melissa and other family members with stories like hers have the time they need to use the benefits afforded to them.
I have often said that the Veterans’ Affairs Committee is the most bipartisan committee in the Senate.
Doing right by veterans is not a democratic issue or a republican issue, it’s an American value. It’s our responsibility. And I hope this law will serve as an example of the important work we can get done to actually make life better for the people we work for – but only when we work together.
My office is proud to help veterans and their families accessing their benefits and I will continue fighting for them. Veterans across Ohio needing assistance can contact my Cleveland office at 216-522-7272.
The writer is a U.S. senator from Ohio.