News, Views, and Information about Disability

Disability News, Views, Information, and Literature

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Recent Coverage of Veterans' Benefits Bills in House and Senate; Maine Veteran in Spotlight; Maine Senators Divided

Several similar bills pertaining to veterans benefits have been debated recently in the US House and Senate. These are of particular significance to Maine because Maine has a higher than average proportion of citizens who are veterans and because one component of the bill — sometimes a separate bill, sometimes a provision in a larger bill — is named for Maine veteran Ruth Moore who has put a face on the pervasive problem of sexual assault in the military.

A February 26 article in the Portland Press Herald gives a good overview of the bills, what's at stake, and who supports and opposes them:
The Senate on Tuesday began debating a broad veterans’ benefits bill that would expand health care and education services for former military personnel but that some Republicans warned could overburden programs already struggling to meet demand.
A provision in proposed legislation – named for Moore – would make it easier for veterans who were sexually assaulted while serving in the military to qualify for disability benefits.
The Democrat-sponsored bill would allow more uninsured veterans to receive health coverage through the Department of Veterans Affairs and would expand dental coverage. It would also allow veterans to qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges in whichever state they are living and cover the costs of fertility treatment for veterans made infertile because of service-related injuries.
The legislation also includes a provision – named for Maine veteran Ruth Moore – that would make it easier for veterans who were sexually assaulted while serving in the military to qualify for disability benefits.
Read the complete article, "Broad veterans' benefits debated in U.S. Senate."

A short March 7 article in the Portland press Herald by the same reporter as the previously mentioned article provides an update on the bills named after Ruth Moore, focused on Maine's two senators' different takes on the best way to curb sexual assault in the military.
Maine's senators split on military sex assault measure
Susan Collins was a co-sponsor of the bill, while Angus King supported a competing but less-sweeping measure.
Maine's senators split their votes Thursday on a bill to transfer the decision over whether to prosecute rape and other serious crimes from military commanders to military trial lawyers.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins supported Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill while Sen. Angus King opposed it.
Both supported moving forward with consideration of a competing but less-sweeping bill written by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Read the complete article, "Maine's senators split on military sex assault measure."

A March 8 article in the Washington newspaper, The Hill, discussing the frustration of Democrats in the House in getting bills passed through the Senate put some of the veterans bills in this category" Maine's Representative Pingree on the subject:

Three of the stalled Democratic bills deal with veterans and the military.

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) has two House-passed bills awaiting action in the Senate. The Ruth Moore Act aims to improve the disability claims process for veterans with mental health problems due to sexual trauma experienced in the military.

Pingree spokesman Willy Ritch said he doesn't know when, or if, the bill will come up on the other side of the Capitol.

“Absolutely, it is frustrating to [Pingree] that this bill passed House and hasn’t passed the Senate,” Ritch said.
If it doesn’t move in the Senate, Ritch said Pingree might seek an administrative remedy.

“She's been pushing this issue for a few years now. The end result may be legislation, but it may also be putting pressure on [the Department of Veterans Affairs] to act on their own,” Ritch said.
Read the complete article in The Hill.

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