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New bill for veterans clears Senate committee

Veterans in Texas may be interested to learn that the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee passed a bill on July 24 providing for major changes in several areas pertaining to VA benefits. The changes will affect disability claims by sexual assault victims, G.I. Bill tuition payments for veterans attending schools in non-domiciliary states, and health and employment programs.

Under the new legislation, which may go to the Senate floor for a vote, public colleges and universities would charge veterans who enroll within three years of separation or retirement no more than they do for state residents. The transition assistance program would offer veterans more information on disability-related education and employment.

The bill also assigns a case officer as a liaison between each disability claimant and the Veterans Affairs Department. Rules for medical examinations also require exams or opinions only if the claim records show no medical diagnoses or opinions on the rapes, assaults or traumatic incidents. The bill would extend treatment of sexual trauma to include incidents on inactive duty training.

Further, federal agencies would hire 15,000 veterans over five years, and states receiving grants to encourage employment of veterans would recognize military experience as a qualifier for certifications and licenses. Chiropractic care at VA hospitals would be expanded, and a two-year test program would pay for fitness club memberships for overweight or obese veterans who do not live near a VA fitness facility.

Surviving spouses of service members who die in the line of duty would be eligible for Fry Scholarships, which provide full G.I. Bill education benefits currently to surviving children only. The bill also would reduce the age at which surviving spouses can remarry without losing eligibility for dependency and indemnity compensation, medical care, education benefits and home loans.

This legislative development is important news to all who may qualify for VA benefits. An elder law attorney may inform them of available entitlements and assist them with the proper application process.

Source: Military Times, "Senate panel votes for sweeping improvements to vets' benefits", Rick Maze, July 25, 2013

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