On Tuesday, December 6, 2016, the House will consider H.R. 6416, the Jeff Miller and Richard Blumenthal Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016, under suspension of the rules. H.R. 7416 was introduced by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) on December 2, 2016, and was referred to the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
H.R. 6416 makes a number of improvements to VA disability compensation, appeals, burial, education, vocational rehabilitation, small business, health care, and homeless programs. Specifically the bill:
Title I – Disability Compensation Matters
- Authorizes the VA to pay benefits to the survivor of a veterans who has not filed a formal claim in the VA determines that the record contains sufficient evidence to establish the survivor’s entitlement to those benefits;
- Allows the Board of Appeals to determine whether a hearing will be help through video conference;
- Requires the VA to make available to the public information on the average length of time it takes to adjudicate an appeal filed within 180 days after VA’s initial decision and the average length of time it takes VA to adjudicate an appeal not filed within 180 days.
- Directs GAO to review the VA’s regional offices to help the Veterans Benefits Administration achieve more consistent performance in the processing of claims for disability compensation;
- Requires the VA to report and determine appropriate staffing levels at the regional offices, the number of claims a full-time employee can process in year, and plans to reduce the inventory of its non-rating workload;
- Authorizes a contract physician to conduct a compensation and pension examination at any location in the U.S.; and
- Requires the VA to enter into an agreement for an independent assessment of examinations furnished by the VA to individuals seeking disability compensation for traumatic brain injuries.
Title II – United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
- Temporarily expands the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims from 7 to 9 judges through 2020;
- Provides the judges of the Veterans Court with the option of purchasing additional service credit to enlarge a survivor’s annuity; and
- Modifies the requirements for serving as the chief judge so that a judge generally must have 3 years remaining on his/her term.
Title III – Burial Benefits and other matters
- Allows the Secretary to affix a medallion in lieu of a headstone or marker to the privately purchased headstone or marker of an individual signifying their status as a veteran if they served in the Armed Forces on or after April 6, 1017;
- Aligns eligibility categories for the Presidential Memorial Certificate program with certain eligibility categories for burial in national veterans cemeteries; and
- Requires the VA to complete a study on matters relating to the interment of unclaimed remains of veterans in national cemeteries, and a study on the feasibility and the need for providing increased interment options on weekends.
Title IV – Educational Assistance and Vocational Rehabilitation
- Amends the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to treat deaths of servicemembers that occurred between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2005 as if they had occurred on January 1, 2006, which would extend for 5 years a surviving spouse’s eligibility for the Fry Scholarship;
- Requires an education or training program pursued under Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment to be an approved course for purposes of the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and authorizes the Secretary to prioritize Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services;
- Requires educational institutions to submit an annual report on the academic progress of students attending under the Post-9/11 GI Bill;
- Provides an additional 5 years during which a student may receive a work-study allowance for performing outreach services for a state approving agency, providing hospital and domiciliary care and medical treatment to veterans in a State home or performing an activity relating to the administration of a national cemetery or a State veteran’s cemetery;
- Ensures an education program is approved for VA education benefits if a state approving agency determines that the program meets deemed-approved criteria, and requires accredited and unaccredited programs for licensures or certifications to meet any state licensure or certification requirements for purposes of VA education benefits;
- Changes the rates of reporting fees paid to educational institutions from $9 and $13 per student to $6 and $12 per student until 2017, and then $7 and $12 per student until 2026;
- Modifies the requirements on the composition of the Veterans Advisory Committee on Education;
- Requires the VA to contract with a non-government entity to conduct a survey of individuals who are using or have used VA educational benefits;
- Requires the VA to disapprove courses in which covered individuals are charged more than the in-state tuition rate; and
- Requires the VA to evaluate military transition assistance programs on their effectiveness for certain groups of minority veterans.
Title V – Small Business and Employment Matters
- Modifies the ownership requirements for small business contracts and preferences;
- Requires the Secretary of Labor to conduct a 5-year longitudinal study of job counseling, training, and placement service for veterans;
- Limits the amount of time a VA employee can be placed on administrative leave (14 days); and
- Requires the Department of Labor’s director of veterans employment and training for each state to coordinate activities with the state agencies.
Title VI – Health Care Matters
- Provides for the advanced appropriation of funding for the Medical Community Care account;
- Amends the definition of preventative health services for purposes of medical services the VA is authorized to provide;
- Includes medal of honor recipients in Priority Group 1 of the VA’s patient enrollment system;
- Establishes standards and procedures to ensure veterans who participated in classified missions or served in sensitive units may access mental health care in a manner that accommodates their obligation to not improperly disclose classified information;
- Requires VA emergency rooms to provide medical screenings and treatment;
- Expands the qualifications for an individual to be appointed as a VA licensed professional mental health counselor to include individuals with a doctoral degree in mental health counseling;
- Repeals the requirement for the VA to institute compensation panes to determine market pay;
- Includes full-time students as among VA Employee Incentive Scholarship participants liable for the amount which was paid to them or on their behalf, in the even the participant fails to maintain VA employment;
- Requires an increase of up to 1,500 positions of graduate medical education residency position at VA medical facilities over five years;
- Authorizes the VA to carry out major medical facility projects in Reno, Nevada and Long Beach, California;
- Directs the Secretary to conduct an assessment on scientific research relating to the descendants of individuals with toxic exposure; and
- Establishes an advisory board to advise the Secretary on toxic exposure matters;
Title VII – Homelessness Matters
- Includes individuals fleeing domestic violence in the VA definition of homeless veteran;
- Exempts homeless veterans from being disqualified from receiving services through GDP and SSVF programs as a result of a discharge or dismissal from the Armed Forces, unless by reason of a general court-martial;
- Provides per diem payments to certain entities that provide services to homeless veterans;
- Requires the VA to carry out a program to provide case management services to improve the retention of housing by veterans who were previously homeless;
- Establishes a National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans; and
- Requires the VA to assess and measure the capacity of programs that receive grants or per diem payments.
Title VIII – Other Matters
- Requires the VA to use industry standards, standard designs, and best practices in constructing medical facilities;
- Requires the VA to ensure that relevant employees have ongoing professional training and developing regarding industry standards and best practices;
- Requires the VA to contract for forensic audits of certain medical facility projects; and
- Requires the VA to report on support construction projects.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides an array of benefits to veterans and to certain members of their families. These benefits include disability compensation and pensions, education benefits, survivor benefits, medical treatment, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, and burial and memorial benefits. In order to apply for these benefits, in most circumstances, the claimant will send an application to his or her local VA Regional Office or apply online. Once a veteran has filed an application for benefits with the VA, the agency has a unique obligation to the claimant when adjudicating the claim—the VA has a “duty to assist” the claimant throughout the claim process.
The VA estimates that the veteran population was 21.9 million as of September 30, 2014. The VA operates 1,203 VA outpatient sites, 300 Vet Centers, over 150 hospitals and medical centers, 131 national cemeteries, and 56 regional offices. There are 9.1 million veterans enrolled in the VA health care system.
The VA carries out its programs nationwide through three administrations and the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is responsible for, among other things, providing compensation, pensions, and education assistance. The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) is responsible for maintaining national veterans’ cemeteries; providing grants to states for establishing, expanding, or improving state veterans’ cemeteries; and providing headstones and markers for the graves of eligible persons, among other things. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is responsible for health care services and medical and prosthetic research programs. The VHA is primarily a direct service provider of primary care, specialized care, and related medical and social support services to veterans through the nation’s largest integrated health care system.
Veterans discharged from active duty (under conditions other than dishonorable), service members who die while on active duty, active duty training, or inactive duty training, and spouses and dependent children of veterans and active duty service members may be eligible for VA burial and memorial benefits. Burial in a VA national cemetery is available for eligible veterans, spouses, and dependents at no cost and includes the gravesite, grave-liner, opening and closing the grave, a headstone or marker, and perpetual care. For veterans, benefits may also include a burial flag and military funeral honors. Currently, the VA does not normally conduct burials on weekends.
The HUD-VASH program is a joint effort between HUD and VA to move veterans and their families out of homelessness and into permanent housing. HUD provides housing assistance through its Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) that allows homeless veterans to rent privately-owned housing. VA offers eligible homeless veterans clinical and supportive services through its health care system across the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.
 See CRS Report, “Veterans’ Benefits: The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Duty to Assist Claimants,” September 26, 2014.
 See VA website, About VA History
 See CRS Report, “Department of Veterans Affairs FY2016 Appropriations: In Brief,” February 24, 2016.
An official Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate is not currently available. However, CBO estimates that the bill will be fully offset.
For questions or further information please contact Jake Vreeburg with the House Republican Policy Committee by email or at 6-1828.