By Tina Munoz
Congressman Raul Ruiz recently presented his plan to end the Veteran Affairs (VA) benefit backlog, noting his goal is to expand and improve health care, improve job and education programs, and fight the ever growing rate of veteran homelessness.
“This legislative package is the result of listening to the people I serve – the veterans in my district, as well as their families, friends, and the communities that care for them,” said Dr. Ruiz.
The 2015 proposed White House budget would allot $65.3 billion in discretionary funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs, along with a $1.6 billion investment in helping homeless and at-risk veterans. This includes $500 million for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing, $321 million for a supportive housing program for veterans and $75 million for 10,000 new housing vouchers through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It also includes $56 billion for Medicare services including $589 million for medical and prosthetic research and $7 million for mental health services.
What Ruiz is proposing includes: Veterans Access to Speedy Review Act, giving veterans the ability to use video conferencing instead of having to travel in person for an appeals hearing, reducing the cost for the VA and the veteran. The Support our Services to Veterans Caregivers Act (S.O.S. Veterans Caregivers Act) which under the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, only seriously injured heroes and their caregiver receive benefits. Ruiz is attempting to shift legislation by including severe “illness.” Making sure that those veterans who have been made severely ill will now receive the support they need. The Wounded Veterans Recreation Act would make all disabled veterans eligible for a no-cost, lifetime pass that would give them entry to the national parks and federal recreational lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Reclamation.
Disabled Veterans Workforce Opportunity Act, when applying for a job within the United States government, veterans would receive a 70 percent higher disability rating along with stronger references.
“These bills aim to reduce the claims backlog at the VA – ensuring veterans and their families receive the benefits they have earned, improve the quality of life for wounded veterans, and make it easier for veterans to find jobs. Our veterans have stood up for us, and we need to stand up for them. I will continue to work with my Democratic and Republican colleagues, the VA, and veterans’ organizations across the country to enact this legislation and work to find pragmatic solutions to their most pressing needs,” said Ruiz.
This legislation will provide needed evidence and an overview of the timeliness of other agencies in providing the VA with vital information ensuring veterans receive benefits in a timely manner.