Submitted By: Raul Ariaga 

It looks like veterans have had a fairly good year for 2001, because many of you contacted your congressional delegates on behalf of veterans. Here's an update of legislation that passed this past year:

Issue 1: Strong gains for Veterans in 2001

House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee leaders capped a strong year of legislative activity on behalf of veterans with passage of H.R.1291, the Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act; H.R.2540, Veterans Compensation Rate Amendments of 2001; H.R. 2716,the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act; and H.R.3423, All Career Military Eligible For Burial At Arlington National Cemetery.

H.R.1291, was introduced to increase Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) education benefits over a three-year period. The final version of the bill also includes other veterans benefits sought by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV). Among many other provisions, the final version of H. R.1291:

-Boost educational benefits under the MGIB over the next three years. The maximum monthly rate increases to $985 on 1 Oct. 2003, a 46% hike over current benefits;
-Increases the VA home loan guaranty from $50,700 to $60,000 and extends the VA home loan authority for Selected Reservists to year 2011;
-Adds Adult Onset Diabetes Type II to the list of service-connected conditions for Vietnam Veterans exposed to Agent Orange; and
-Increases the monthly rates of survivors' and dependents' educational assistance.

H.R. 2540 authorizes a 2.6% COLA for disabled veterans and their survivors.

H.R. 2716 authorizes funding, housing, and related assistance for homeless veterans.

Issue 2: Long Term Care Insurance Progress

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has announced that The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and John Hancock Life Insurance Company have been selected as the carriers for the government Long-Term Care (LTC) Insurance program for military and federal civilian beneficiaries that will start up late next year. Together, the two firms have formed a third corporation called Long Term Care Partners, LLC. The new company's sole responsibility will be operating the federal program. The contract is for seven years. Premium rates and benefits options could be released in late winter (Feb 2002). Coverage will be effective on October 1, 2002, but program sign-ups could begin much sooner, according to the OPM.

In related news, the House and Senate approved the Long-Term Care SecurityAct, HR2559, for Presidential signature, which is expected shortly. The Act
makes several improvements in the law that initially authorized the government
LTC insurance program discussed above. HR2559 exempts federal long-term
care insurance premiums from state and local income taxability. It also expands
eligibility to include gray area reservists, as well as federal civilian retirees with deferred annuities. (Gray area reserve retirees have served 20 or more qualifying years and are eligible to receive retired pay when they become 60 years of age.)
13 million federal workers and annuitants - including active and retired service members and their family members-will be eligible to purchase the long-term care insurance at group-discount rates when the program commences on Oct. 1, 2002. OPM expects the government program's premiums to be lower than those of commercial plans. 
Issue 3: Concurrent Receipt Focus Shifts to White House.
There is disappointment that Congress failed to take action to end the 100 year old practice of making disabled military retirees forfeit a dollar of their earned retired pay for each dollar received in VA disability compensation. The FY2002 Defense Authorization Act, now awaiting the President's signature, specifies that this will only happen if the President includes the necessary legislation and funding in his FY203 Budget Request (which is due to Congress in February).  The Administration is already on record as opposing any change to the current law, and it likely will be difficult to change that position in the next two months. But we won't know if we don't try.