January 3, 2019, was the first day of the 116th
Congress. Let’s take a look at some of the legislation they passed during 2018. When it comes to bills pertaining to veterans’ programs and services, and legislation of interest to people with visual impairments, the 115th Congress actually accomplished quite a lot, often with strong support from both Republicans and Democrats.

To begin with, Congress fully funded the Pentagon’s programs for the current fiscal year, and, included an increase in funding for the Vision Research Program operated by the Defense Department from $15 million to $20 million. We also saw legislation make it through both the House and Senate this year to ratify and implement the Marrakesh Treaty, which aims to increase the number of books that are available to blind and visually impaired people in accessible formats.

Several other bills made it through Congress successfully and were signed into law by the President during the past year. These include:

The Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2017, requiring VA to evaluate an initiative to reduce the need for in-person disability examinations;

The Veterans Care Financial Protection Act of 2017, aimed at protecting veterans from fraudulent or predatory scams;

H.R.3656, providing VA memorial headstones and markers for veterans whose remains are unavailable;

The State Veterans Home Adult Day Health Care Improvement Act of 2017, which allows qualifying veterans to receive adult-day medical model health care;

H.R.3562, to improve the process for providing certain home adaptations;

The John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka and Samuel R. Johnson VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act, which calls for streamlining and strengthening VA community care programs to ensure veterans receive efficient, timely and quality care;

The Veterans Cemetery Benefit Correction Act, which provides equal burial benefits for veterans interred in National Park Service cemeteries;

The V A Senior Executive Accountability (SEA) Act, which aims to prevent “rogue” employees from being reassigned within the VA instead of being terminated, without the V A secretary’s approval;

The Veterans Compensation Cost-Of-Living Adjustment Act of 2018, which provides for adjustments in compensation levels for veterans equal to those made each year for Social Security beneficiaries;

and most recently, The Veterans Benefits And Transition Act of 2018, which covers a range of issues throughout VA programs. This bill combines provisions of several previously introduced bills and is meant to:

  • Help protect student veterans when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is late making payments to schools.
  • Improve burial access to national and tribal cemeteries for family members of active duty service members and veterans.
  • Require the VA to provide standardized debt notices to veterans.
  • Provide protection to Gold Star Spouses.
  • Expand benefits and support to military spouses and families.
  • Expand eligibility for the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program.
  • Study best practices among community programs providing transition assistance for veterans.

This list does not include bills that passed either the House or the Senate, but were not acted upon by the other chamber. It is our hope that some of these, such as the VA Website Accessibility Act of 2018, which passed the House in December but was not acted on by the Senate, will be re-introduced during the year ahead. We will let you know if or when that occurs.

Please be on the lookout for updates during the weeks ahead, as committees, such as the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs, get organized, and members begin introducing legislation. We will keep you apprised of changes in the committees of interest, as well as any new legislation we are tracking. We anticipate a busy start to the 116th Congress and will try to keep you in the loop. If you have questions, please feel free to contact us at the B V A HQ.

Melanie Brunson
Director of Government Relations
Blinded Veterans Association
125 N. West St, 3rd Floor
Alexandria, VA 22314
(800) 669 7079
(202) 371 8880 ext. 305
(202) 371 8258 Fax
m brunson at b v a.org