Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Adam Smith (9th District of Washington)
Each year on Veterans Day, we honor those who have served our country and risked their lives around the world to keep us safe. In recognition of their bravery, heroism, and sacrifice, we must ensure that they and their loved ones are cared for when they return home. As we reflect on their courage and selfless service, I wanted to give you an update on my efforts in Congress on behalf of our veterans and their families.
As the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, I am honored to work to support active duty service members. This also means doing everything we can to ensure that members of our military have access to the quality jobs, educational opportunities, and health care services that they deserve, and we are supporting them and their families in the transition to civilian life.
Supporting Veterans During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have continued to hold virtual meetings with veterans and local Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs). These meetings provide an important opportunity for me to hear from local veterans about issues they are facing during the pandemic and better advocate on their behalf.
For example, earlier this year I learned that some student veterans were at risk of losing their GI Bill benefits due to the transition from in-person to online instruction. I worked with my colleagues in Congress to pass and sign into law the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act, which authorizes the VA to continue paying work-study allowances, educational assistance, and subsistence allowances during emergency periods.
At the beginning of October, the House passed an updated version of the Heroes Act to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic and support struggling individuals, families, and businesses. This legislation included provisions specifically aimed at veterans and their families, such as:
- Ensuring veterans will not have copays or cost-sharing for preventative treatment or services related to COVID-19;
- Improving supply chain management to ensure that each VA medical center has the necessary equipment to effectively respond to COVID-19;
- Temporarily suspending VA’s debt collection activities and extending deadlines to file claims and appeals for VA benefits, including disability compensation, during the public health emergency;
- Addressing the VA Board of Veterans Appeals backlog caused by the interruption of in-person hearings; and
- Expanding emergency assistance for elderly veterans residing in State Homes.
The Updated Heroes Act makes clear that House Democrats are willing to do what is necessary to provide our communities, workers, and families urgently needed health and economic relief. It is imperative that we continue to work to advance legislation that meets the needs of our communities.
Promoting Access to the Outdoors for Veterans
In September, during National Suicide Prevention Month, the House passed the Veterans Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care, and Treatment (COMPACT) Act to address the veteran suicide crisis and ensure that veterans can receive emergency mental health care regardless of cost. The COMPACT Act included the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act, a bill I led to expand outdoor recreation opportunities and access to public lands for military veterans. Experts agree that access to nature can have positive therapeutic effects on veterans, especially those struggling with combat-related injuries and post-traumatic stress.
Passing Legislation to Expand Support for Veterans
The House has worked diligently in recent months to enhance veterans’ lives and address hurdles that have prevented veterans from accessing benefits and services. In September alone, the House unanimously passed 11 bills for veterans, including:
- The Dependable Employment and Living Improvements for Veterans’ Economic Recovery (DELIVER) Act, which would provide support for our most vulnerable veterans throughout the COVID-19 pandemic by providing food, safe shelter, and access to VA telehealth services.
- The Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act, which would protect veterans applying for VA disability benefits by requiring the VA to maintain availability of disability benefits questionnaires on the VA website.
- The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which would establish a grant program for nonprofit organizations that provide mindfulness activities to veterans and provide additional tools and resources to inform efforts to address the multifaceted challenge of veteran suicide.
- The SHIELD for Veterans Act, which would reform the VA’s debt collection practices to remedy the gross inefficiencies revealed in VA’s process and prohibit certain anti-consumer practices that have created financial hardship for veterans.
I am honored to represent thousands of veterans who call Washington’s Ninth Congressional District home. I look forward to continuing my work with veterans and VSOs in our community to make impactful changes for veterans and their families. Thank you to all our nation’s veterans for your service.