A bill working its way through Congress is packed with provisions for veterans, active-duty members and military dependents.
Among those is a measure that would block schools from penalizing student veterans for Department of Veteran Affairs delays. Other items include burial and memorial benefits, expansions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and changes to VA's debt collection practices.
Before becoming law, however, the bill must pass in the Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump.
After the public relations fiasco caused by VA's late GI Bill payments this fall, Congress set out to ensure that it protects veterans from repercussions against them due to VA's negligence. The new legislation would:
- Make schools ineligible for GI Bill tuition payments if they placed penalties or burdens on students as a result of the VA failing to pay GI Bill payments on time.
- Block schools from kicking veterans out of classes if their GI Bill payments are late.
- Require the VA to tell veterans exactly how much their monthly housing allowance rather than require more guessing.
Burial and Memorial Benefits
Under the legislation:
- Spouses and children would be eligible for government provided headstones if they are buried in a VA cemetery.
- Spouses and children of veterans buried in tribal cemeteries would get all the same benefits as the veteran.
Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
The bill would move SCRA rules into the 21st century, with changes to legal and debt collection rights held by veterans and their spouses. Included in the bill is:
- The ability for a surviving spouse to terminate a lease under the SCRA if their partner dies on active duty.
- The right of a military member who is mobilized or gets PCS orders to terminate their video programming and internet bills without any late charges. Previously only telephone bills were covered.
- Give a military spouse the right to claim the same state of legal residence as their partner for state taxes. Previously, the spouse could only claim the state they were living in or go through the hassle of setting up residence in the military member's state of legal residence.
- The ability for the spouse to maintain their state of legal residence for voting even if they live out of state while accompanying the military member. Some states require you to actually live in the state for a certain amount of time in an election year to be able to vote.
Aimed at giving veterans easier access to state and local programs, the bill would require VA to publish on their website a list of all non-federal transition programs.
VA Debt Collection
Under the bill, VA would have to re-format all debt-related letters into "plain language" with a clear explanation, according to the proposed legislation. It also would allow VA to communicate with veterans via both mail and electronic means.
Homeless Veteran Reintegration
Homeless veterans programs would expand to veterans transitioning from incarceration to civilian life, and to those getting assistance under the Native American Housing Assistance Program.
Expansion of VA Dental Program
The bill also would give VA one year to report to Congress on the costs, enrollment estimates and feasibility of expanding the dental program.
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