U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is touting comprehensive legislation that would expand veterans’ services and family member benefits. The Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Act passed in the Senate last Saturday and now heads to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
One of the biggest complaints by veterans is the slow process they have to go through to file claims and appeals. The VHCBA includes key provisions of the Veterans First Act, which Brown cosponsored. The bill would help address the appeals backlog by temporarily expanding the number of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims from seven to nine, enhance veterans’ homelessness benefits, and expand toxic exposure research for veterans and descendants.
“Once this is signed into law, we will be one step closer to making sure that families who have sacrificed so much for our nation get the benefits they deserve. No veteran should face living on the street or trouble accessing benefits they earned. And we’re addressing all of these issues with this bill,” Brown said. “This bipartisan bill will grant veterans and their families expanded benefits and ensure that the VA has the resources to provide veterans with the highest quality of care. And importantly, it will help cut the backlog on veterans’ claims.”
The bill also includes a provision authored by Brown to ensure that surviving spouses of service members have enough time to use their educational benefits. The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship provides Post-9-11 GI Bill benefits to the surviving spouses and children of service members who have died in the line of duty while on active duty after Sept. 10, 2001.
“My husband, Captain Philip B. Twine, was a Logistics Officer in the Air Force when he died at the age of 34 in 2002. We had three children and I was eight months pregnant with our fourth child when Phil died,” Melissa Twine, an Air Force veteran from Batavia whose husband, Captain Philip B. Twine, died serving in the Air Force, said. “After my husband’s death, I became the primary breadwinner, a single parent of four, including being the caregiver for our child with autism spectrum disability. Prior to Philip’s death, I completed my undergrad in Biology at the University of Cincinnati. Our plan was that I would obtain my Master’s degree next. Those plans changed when our world changed on Aug. 7, 2002. I had to put this goal on pause for many years while I raised my family as a single parent. It was especially difficult with a newborn and a child with a disability. I am now in a place where fulfilling my goal of higher education is possible. I am very grateful to now be afforded the necessary time to utilize the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship. This educational opportunity means the world to me and others in my situation.”
Brown said when Congress expanded Fry Scholarship eligibility to spouses in the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, a 15-year limitation was put on these benefits. The provision Brown secured in the bill passed on Saturday will extend the period of eligibility for the Fry Scholarship to spouses of servicemembers killed between Sept. 11, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2005 so that they will have enough time to fully utilize the benefit.
Additionally, the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Act includes a variation of the Veteran Housing Stability Act of 2015, which Brown cosponsored. The bill would increase veterans’ access to permanent housing options by increasing outreach to landlords to encourage renting to veterans; expanding the definition of “homeless veteran,” so more veterans, including those facing domestic abuse, can access housing assistance; and requiring a report on the efficacy of VA programs to improve retention of housing by veterans who are at risk of becoming homeless.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.