On February 27, 2014, the Senate declined, by a vote of 56-41, to waive a budget point of order raised against S. 1982, a comprehensive expansion of veterans programs, introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sixty votes were needed to waive the budget point of order and continue work toward final passage of the bill. This vote effectively stopped the bill.
The measure would have expanded caregiver benefits to veterans of all generations and improved health and dental care services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It also would have allowed the VA to open 27 new clinics and medical facilities. Enrollment in VA health care would have been opened for more veterans. Educational and employment opportunities would have been expanded and would have improved access to care and benefits for veterans who experienced military sexual trauma. Also full cost-of-living adjustments would have been restored for future military retirees.
S. 1982 also included advance appropriations for VA’s mandatory funding to pay disability compensation, pension, survivor’s benefits and education and vocational rehabilitation benefits. In addition, this measure would have expanded survivors’ benefits and established a task force to examine how VA provides work credits to employees and another task force to examine VA’s benefits training programs.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the discretionary cost of the bill would be about $20 billion through fiscal year 2019. Opponents of S. 1982 expressed disagreement with the chosen route to pay for the discretionary portion of the bill. The point of order against S. 1982 was sustained, due to the bill’s exceeding by $261 million the government-wide spending limits Congress agreed to in the budget act passed in December 2013, in the wake of the government shutdown.
The legislation was supported by DAV, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and virtually every other veterans’ and military service organization.
A scaled-back proposal was offered by Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina included U.S. sanctions against Iran and offset the bill’s costs by preventing undocumented immigrants from receiving child tax credits. In remarks broadcast by C-SPAN, Senator Burr said that the Sanders’ bill “could hurt veterans, not help them,” by overloading VA facilities and services. Others believed the bill was too costly and would overwhelm the VA.
DAV will continue to work with members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committees to move legislation forward on advance appropriations for all VA programs, to expand caregiver benefits to all generations of veterans and work to enact the many other provisions in S. 1982. These measures would benefit wounded, injured, and ill veterans, their families and survivors.