H.R. 1329, also known as: “Veteran’s Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2017” finally enacts what you would expect would happen… Veterans with service-connected disability will see an increase in their compensation payments for the purpose of offsetting inflation. You can think of inflation as simply what happens when you blink and your regular $3.00 gallon of milk is suddenly $3.06. Six cents may not seem like a lot but when you consider the amount of goods purchased by each household, it will certainly add up over time. Your grandma wasn’t kidding when she said a dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to.
Nevertheless, this newly-enacted law requires that VA disability compensation increase by the same percentage each year as the Social Security old age and disability compensation increases. This rate increase not only affects the basic service-connected compensation, but also benefits for clothing allowance (if a Veteran’s prosthesis/medical device causes unusual wear and tear of clothing), and benefits for surviving spouses and children. For 2018, the increase is 2% which is literally $2 for every $100 in compensation. Again, that may not seem like much but after hearing, reading, and witnessing the struggle of many Veterans and their surviving spouses and children, I can’t help but rejoice in those extra few dollars each month.
It is important to note that the rate of increase will not be the same each year. The 2% increase for this coming year is the highest in five years but also a far cry from the 14.3% cost-of-living adjustment in 1980. The Congressional Budget Office submitted their report on the cost of this bill in May 2017. Their estimate included a 2.5% increase, so adjusting for the lesser, actual increase, the cost of this bill will approximately in $1.44 billion in 2018. Inflation sucks (most of the time).
The Veteran’s Choice Program is not without its flaws. News agencies far and wide have reported on inefficiency, ridiculous eligibility criteria, and general messiness. Perhaps some would be glad to see it expire in August 2017 as scheduled, but considering that wait times and care services are still not where they should be across the board, we may be better off hoping that President Trump signs this bill into law. Instead of expiring three years after enactment of the original bill, the Veteran’s Choice Program will continue as long as there is money in the fund. Initially, 10 billion was allocated, but President Trump’s proposed budget would add 3.5 billion for the program. Given this fact and the president’s promises to take care of Veteran’s, it would be unlikely that he would veto this bill.
In addition to changing the termination date of the Choice Program, this bill, which amends the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, will also allow for the Choice Program to recoup money from third parties (insurance companies) for provided medical care that is not service-connected. This will clearly help extend the budget of the program and ensure that the appropriate parties pay for care.
VA medical records will also be able to be send to outside agencies for the purpose of providing medical care. Any other use of the records will be prohibited. If you have ever tried to get records sent from one government agency to another, especially the VA, you know what a pain it can be!
These changes may not seem like much but they are certainly a step in the right direction. For some, the Choice Program works, for others, it does not. Each improvement provides more Veterans with the care that they need.
It’s no secret that the mental health of our Veterans is a hot topic; not only how to manage it, but also the consequences of it. As a Veteran and a caregiver to my Veteran husband who was injured in Iraq, I understand first-hand why it is so important that we study and improve on services for our men and women in the military. That being said, the rights of some Veterans are being taken away because the VA has determined they are “mentally incompetent” to manage their own finances. This determination could be for many different reasons but it results in the appointment of someone to oversee their VA compensation (often a loved one or friend) and the denial to own a firearm. You read that properly. A man or woman who has served our country honorably and fought to keep them safe could potentially lose the right to bear arms, a right afforded to them in the 2nd Amendment.
Enter H.R. 1181, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act. With a vote of 240-175, the bill was passed in the House today. The bill seeks to correct language about gun ownership that is too broad. The U.S. Code which outlines criminal acts, makes owning a gun a crime for anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective.” Under this new bill, if passed, a judge, magistrate, or someone “of judical authority” must determine that a Veteran is a danger to themself or others.
I am not going to slam the VA here. After five years in Army administration, I know how hard it can be to ensure that you are following regulation to the letter of the law (there is rarely room for “spirit of the law”). However, in an attempt to do so, the VA has reported thousands of names of Veterans to the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System which would prevent them from buying a gun. This may not seem like a bad idea, except a Veteran who can’t manage their bills properly are now kept from claiming a right that they, ironically, had to make use of during their service. Some reports say that 167,000 Veterans are listed because of their inability to manage finances; still others list it at 257,000. Whatever the number, it is unfair to take away such a right under these circumstances. Forgetting that your cable bill is due every month does not equal being a danger to anyone.
I thoroughly support background checks and preventing those who are dangerous from owning a gun. I will add that where there is a will, there is, unfortunately sometimes, a way. We cannot prevent all gun violence, or violence using any weapon, however, laws are an important defense against it. Nevertheless, we have to give our Veterans a fair chance. Just because you are bruised, doesn’t mean you are broken.