As we near the July 4th holiday, we would like to take a moment to update you on the progress made during the first part of this year on PVA's priorities. Our priorities for 2021 include improving the VA health care system and available services, improving VA benefits for veterans with catastrophic disabilities, and improving and protecting systems and civil rights that support people with disabilities.
Here are key updates on some of our priorities:
Preserving the SCI/D System of Care/Increasing Access to Long-Term Care
President Biden released his full budget request on May 27. Overall, the Administration’s request for VA for FY 2022—combined with appropriated funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), available funding from the Recurring Expenses Transformational Fund (Transformational Fund), and proposed funding from the American Jobs Plan (AJP)—would fully fund veterans’ programs, benefits, and services for the first time in a generation. The Administration has requested a total of $78.1 billion in new appropriations for VA Medical Care. The Administration also requested $1.6 billion for Major Construction. Additionally, the Administration has proposed that VA receive $18 billion as part of its infrastructure proposal (AJP), which would provide an historic infusion of funding for VA’s health care facilities. The budget proposal notes that the average age of U.S. private sector hospitals is 11 years; however, the median age of hospitals in VA’s portfolio is 58 years, with 69 percent of VA hospitals over the age of 50.
The President's budget also requests funding for the continued expansion of VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (PCAFC). The proposal raises spending for PCAFC by $350 million in FY2022 for a total $1.4 billion. The higher amount supports the inclusion of Phase 1 veterans who are now eligible to participate in the program but will not help PVA’s efforts to accelerate the start date of Phase II. To read more about our position on VA's caregiver program, click here.
Through our work with the Independent Budget, PVA had the opportunity to testify about the President's budget request (House and Senate) and the state of VA's infrastructure (House and Senate). Fully funding VA's budget is necessary to ensuring that services like SCI/D health care and benefits are available to veterans in a timely manner and that VA's infrastructure is able to meet modern health care requirements and the demands of an aging population.
Increasing Access to IVF
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Rick Larsen (D-WA) have introduced legislation, the Veteran Families Health Services Act, H.R. 2734 and S. 1280, aimed at improving assisted reproductive technology for servicemembers and veterans. This legislation would permanently authorize fertility treatment and counseling, including assisted reproductive technology like IVF, for veterans and servicemembers and allow for the use of donated gametes; ensure that veterans’ and servicemembers’ spouses, partners, and gestational surrogates are appropriately included in eligibility rules; provide support for servicemembers and veterans to navigate their options, find a provider that meets their needs, and ensure continuity of care after a permanent change of station or relocation; expand options for veterans with infertility by allowing VA to provide adoption assistance; and require VA and the Department of Defense to facilitate research on the long-term reproductive health needs of veterans. Helping catastrophically disabled veterans grow their families is an important PVA priority.
Strengthening Benefits for Catastrophically Disabled Veterans
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Daniel Meuser (R-PA) have introduced the AUTO for Veterans Act (H.R. 1361/S. 444), which would expand access to transportation for disabled veterans by allowing qualifying veterans to receive additional Automobile Grants. Both bills have wide bipartisan support. S. 444 was reviewed during a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee legislative hearing in April. On May 19, Representative Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX) and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) introduced the Care Access Resources (CARS) for Vets Act (H.R. 3304). This legislation would not only allow eligible service-connected veterans to receive an additional automobile grant if ten years have lapsed since their last grant, but would also codify the provision of certain vehicle modifications for veterans with non-service-connected qualifying conditions. More information about the CARS legislation is available here. PVA supports both the CARS for Vets Act and the AUTO for Veterans Act.
Strengthening the Air Carrier Access Act
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI) have introduced the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act (ACAAA) (S. 642/H.R. 1696). This legislation would require airlines to meet access standards on aircraft, strengthen administrative enforcement, and create a private right of action for passengers with disabilities who face discrimination. With the availability of vaccines, more people with disabilities will be returning to the skies. Improving access to air travel remains a top priority.
Prioritizing Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities/Promoting Increased Compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Representative Josh Harder have introduced the Disability Employment Incentive Act (S. 630/H.R. 3765). This bill would expand the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC), extend application of WOTC to SSDI beneficiaries, and increase the disabled access credit and the deduction for expenditures to remove architectural and transportation barriers to the disabled and elderly. PVA strongly supports this legislation as it would not only improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities, but it would also help businesses remove barriers to access for all.
We need your help in gaining support for these and other PVA priorities. Please take action!