HOUSE VA COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SMITH UNVEILS WIDE-RANGING VETERANS PACKAGE

From: "Bruce K Melson" <doc32751@cookeville.com>

X-RCPT-TO: <Will@willpete.com>

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Dan Amon
February 28, 2001

HOUSE VA COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN SMITH UNVEILS WIDE-RANGING VETERANS' BENEFITS
PACKAGE  

Veterans' Opportunities Act of 2001 includes burial, disability, pension,
and education improvements

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced his first major bill
as chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, a comprehensive
package of burial, disability, and pension benefit improvements, to the
Veterans of Foreign Wars Wednesday.

Chairman Smith chose the occasion of VFW's annual legislative presentation
to unveil The Veterans' Opportunities Act of 2000, which he formally
introduced later in the day in the full House.   

"This measure would make a number of needed improvements to VA benefits and
services," Smith said on the House floor. "Veterans' benefits and services
indeed are 'earned opportunities.' They are earned through selfless and
often hazardous service to our nation, during war and peace alike.  Doing
right by America's sons and daughters who have worn the military uniform is
firmly ingrained in our national values, our national pride, and our sense
of moral responsibility."

Key provisions of the measure would:

   *    Increase the burial and funeral allowance from $1,500 to
$2,000 for veterans whose deaths are service-connected, and from $300 to
$500 for veterans with non-service connected disabilities, and increase the
burial plot allowance from $150 to $300;

   *    Increase the assistance to severely disabled veterans for
automobile and adaptive equipment from $8,000 to $9,000, and for specially
adapted housing grants from $43,000 to $48,000;

   *    Revise the net worth rules of VA's means-tested pension
program to exclude the value of real property used for agriculture;

   *    Expand the definition of "eligible dependent" for purposes
of VA outreach services.

   *    Extend to as early as nine months before discharge the time
that VA, Department of Defense, and Department of Labor transition
counseling is available to someone leaving military service.   The period
would be extended to as much as 18 months for those retiring after military
careers.

   *    Permit veterans to use VA education benefits for certificate
programs offered by an institution of higher learning by way of independent
study.

Smith told VFW members from across the country packed into the Cannon Caucus
Room that he and Ranking Democrat Member Lane Evans (D-IL) would "fast
track" the measure.  Smith tied the burial and funeral provisions to VA's
acknowledgement that the death rate among veterans will continue to
increase, peaking around the year 2008.  More than 1,500 veterans now die
every day.

"The amount payable for these benefits has remained constant for many years
in spite of inflation," Smith said.  "The purchasing power associated with
these provisions still is limited and I consider these provisions as a
starting point for further improvements."

With respect to counseling service members, he said that the Defense
Department expected to separate about 238,000 military personnel every year
for the foreseeable future.   He added that many servicemembers around the
world expressed a desire for more than the present 90 days before separation
allowed for transition counseling furnished by VA, DOD, and Department of
Labor.

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"When the way comes to an end, then change - having changed, you pass through."

      I. Ching

 

 Bruce "Doc". Melson

http://www.docmelson.com/