A bipartisan bill championed by Indiana’s U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican running for governor, was signed into law by President Joe Biden last week.
The law aims to strengthen accountability efforts for the Department of Veterans Affairs to make sure children of Vietnam veterans born with birth defects, such as spina bifida, can access the VA’s health care and benefits program. Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the tube around a baby’s spine does not grow properly.
According to Braun’s office, a lot of Vietnam veterans saw exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical used during the war. It led to long term health impacts for those veterans, including a risk of spina bifida in their children, according to the VA.
Braun and Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire were the lead sponsors of the bill, which saw bipartisan support from other members of the Senate. A companion bill in the House was led by U.S. Rep. Jim Baird, who represents Indiana’s Fourth Congressional District.
Braun, a staunch conservative, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018. He is one of five Republicans running in a crowded primary for governor.
Here’s what you need to know about the new law.
What is the VA spina bifida health care benefits program?
The federal government’s Department of Veterans Affairs has a spina bifida health care benefits program that provides support to children of Korea and Vietnam veterans who have received a spina bifida diagnosis. Support from the program can include financial help, job training and health care, according to the VA.
What action has Braun previously taken on this program?
In 2020, Braun proposed a bill with reforms to the VA’s spina bifida benefits program, which was endorsed by the American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America. Braun introduced another bill tied to reforming the spina bifida program in 2021. Neither bill moved past the Senate.
Braun in 2019 asked for a formal review of the benefits program, which led to a 2021 report by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General that stated the department needed to improve communication to make sure eligible families were receiving benefits.
What does Braun’s bill do?
Braun’s bill boosts accountability efforts of the VA’s spina bifida program to make sure families know the benefits they can access.
The bill creates an advisory council of federal employees and an outreach team focused on making sure families enrolled in the program are receiving applicable benefits.
The bill also ensures children of Vietnam veterans with spina bifida are able to receive health care and benefits for their entire life, even when their parents die.
What did Braun say about the law?
Braun in a statement last Friday said he was proud of helping the bill become law.
“This law will ensure that the children of Vietnam veterans born with spina bifida due to a parent’s exposure to Agent Orange will get the care and benefits they deserve for the rest of their lives,” Braun said in the statement. “I’m proud to have led this valuable bipartisan bill into law and look forward to helping these veterans’ kids.”
What happened before it became law?
Braun’s bill was introduced in the Senate in January. It was passed unanimously in the Senate in July and then in the House in September. Biden signed it into law Oct. 6.