Congress Approaches Expanding Health and Education Benefits

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Congress is on the cusp of a significant expansion of health care and education benefits for veterans, active guards and reserve members.

The Senate and House of Representatives have each passed bills that would help post-9/11 veterans exposed to toxic burns receive critical health care. The House also passed a measure extending GI Bill education aid to previously unqualified National Guardsmen and Reservists.

These legislative efforts would change the lives of millions of veterans. They wouldn’t come at the expense of experienced homebuyers either.

For years, Congress has used the guarantee fee from the Department of Veterans Affairs loan program to pay for other veteran benefits. Increasing this fee makes buying a home more expensive, which is the last thing veterans need in today’s living climate.

Veteran homeowners aren’t quite spared. The bill of the watch and reserve education would be paid with a temporary increase in the guarantee fee on VA refinancing loans.

Ideally, Congress would not fund veterans’ benefits on the backs of other veterans. But these bills won’t make a gloomy housing market any more difficult.

Burn pit bills

The Senate and House bills would expand health care coverage for as many as 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Senate unanimously passed the Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Act in mid-February. The parliamentary version of the bill was passed last week. The measures would make it easier for veterans to access VA medical services and qualify for guaranteed care.

The two chambers must reconcile the bills before a final draft can go to the president’s office.

“Unanimous approval of our Health Care for Burn Pit Veterans Acts sends a clear message to toxic-exposed veterans across the country that we are committed to moving the needle in tackling toxic exposure in a comprehensive and two-pronged way” , said Senate Veterans Affairs Chair Jon Tester (D-MT). “Our bill is a necessary step to connect an entire generation of veterans to the VA care they need and can’t wait any longer. This kind of fast-paced action is a testament to what can be achieved if we all row in the same direction.”

The House’s version of the bill is expected to cost about $300 billion over 10 years.

Education account

The House passed the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act in mid-January with bipartisan support.

This legislation broadens the net for GI Bill benefits and helps put Guard and Reserve members more on an equal footing with active-duty military personnel.

Under the bill, National Guardsmen and Reservists would receive credit for education benefits for every day spent in uniform receiving military pay. This includes training, inactive training, active military service, and general service when base pay is warranted.

Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) introduced the bill and recognized the increasingly vital role of Guard and reserve members.

“Members of the National Guard and the Reserve are increasingly serving on the front lines of our country’s greatest challenges,” Levin said. “It is shameful that we have asked members of the Guard and Reserve to respond to these crises without giving them the same GI Bill benefits as the active duty members with whom they often serve. It’s time for us to stand up and give them the benefits they deserve to protect the American people.”

To help cover the estimated $1.9 billion price tag, the House would temporarily increase the guarantee fee on VA rate-cutting refinancing loans (IRRRLs). The fee would increase from 0.50% to 0.85% once the bill is signed and run through 2030.

On a typical $200,000 loan, the increase would force experienced homeowners to pay when they close their loan or fund an additional $700. Veterans who receive service-related disability benefits are exempt from these benefits.

A range of groups, from the American Legion to the National Association of Realtors and others, have called on Congress to stop using VA mortgage fees to cover the cost of expanding veteran benefits that aren’t tied to housing.

These rate hikes “increase costs at a time when veterans want to responsibly reduce their monthly mortgage payments,” Leslie Rouda Smith, president of the National Association of Realtors, told Congress in December.

“These savings are especially important for those veterans who have temporarily lost their jobs or reduced their income,” said Rouda Smith. “All fees charged by VA in a VA transaction must be used to explicitly support the VA Home Loan Guaranty program.”

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River Scott

Emmett River Scott: Emmett, a culture journalist, writes about arts and entertainment, pop culture trends, and celebrity news.