WASHINGTON – Following the passage of the Department of Defense Overdose Act which is soon to be signed into law, Senator Braun has shepherded 4 bills for Veterans through the U.S. Senate to become law this year.
The four bills are the Department of Defense Overdose Act, the Reforming Benefits for Children of Vietnam Veterans with Spina Bifida Act, the Wounded Warrior Access Act, and the Korean American Valor Act. All four bills were bipartisan.
“Veterans represent the absolute best our country has to offer—and they deserve the absolute best when they return home. I’m proud to have led these four solutions for Veterans through Congress to become law this year. These new laws will help wounded Veterans get easier access to their health records through the VA, to help the children of Vietnam Veterans suffering from spina bifida due to their parent’s service, to fulfill our obligation to Korean-Americans who fought alongside American servicemen and later became U.S. citizens at no additional cost to the United States, and to help address the crisis of overdoses killing our active duty servicemembers.” – Senator Mike Braun
Below are the details on three of these bills that have been signed into law in the last two months – the Department of Defense Overdose Act has passed both Houses of Congress and is expected to be signed into law soon.
REFORMING BENEFITS FOR CHILDREN OF VIETNAM VETERANS WITH SPINA BIFIDA ACT
Persistence pays off when it is in the best interests of constituents.
In 2019, Sen. Braun’s office gets complaints from constituents about poor program administration, leading him to ask the Inspector General of the Veterans Affairs Department (VA OIG) to examine the program management.
In July 2019, the Braun office asked for more formal evaluations of what was happening in the program. On February 23, 2021, the VA OIG issues its report affirming problems in program administration. The VA OIG found that: “VBA and VHA did not adequately communicate or share data, contributing to improper payments being sent to beneficiaries after their deaths and delays in new beneficiaries being enrolled in health care. Further, because VA did not consistently and accurately reach out and communicate with eligible and enrolled beneficiaries, individuals with Spina Bifida and their caretakers did not receive needed information about Spina Bifida benefits and how to obtain them.”
On May 5, 2020, in the 116th Congress, Sen. Braun and Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) introduced legislation to address program shortcomings. On December 9, 2021, in the 117th Congress was re-introduced by Senator Braun, along with Senators Rubio, Hassan and Booker. On November 13, 2022, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a legislative hearing on the bill. On January 26, 2023, in the 118th Congress, Senator Braun re-introduced as S.112 with Senators Rubio, Hassan, Booker, Rick Scott, Cornyn, Warnock, Young and Hirono. On February 16, 2023, SVAC considered and reported the measure without amendment.
The full Senate then approved the bill unanimously on July 13, 2023, followed by unanimous passage in the U.S. House of Representatives (422-0) on September 19, 2023.
President Biden signed this bill into law on October 6, 2023. Upon enactment, Senator Braun noted: “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. I’m proud to have led this valuable bipartisan bill into law and look forward to helping these veterans’ kids.”
This legislation was endorsed by the Vietnam Veterans of America, the American Legion, and the Fleet Reserve Association.
THE WOUNDED WARRIOR ACCESS ACT
The Veterans Benefits claims process should be simple. That is why Senator Braun introduced the Wounded Warrior Access Act (S. 2803/H.R. 1226) with Senator Alex Padilla of California to require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create an online tool for Veterans to access their claim files electronically.
Currently, Veterans must either travel to a regional VA location, or wait for a physical copy to come in the mail to access their claims information. When a Veteran submits a claim for benefits to the VA, a claims file (C-File) is created. C-Files contain a veteran’s service records, results of VA exams, additional information submitted by the veteran, and any material the VA deems necessary to decide the claim. Veterans must travel to a regional VA location or mail in a form to request a paper copy of their C-Files, slowing down the process for individuals.
Improving efficiency in the Veterans claims process will make getting determinations swifter and more transparent. American Veterans represent the absolute best our country has to offer—and they deserve the absolute best when they return home. Veterans should not have to jump through hoops just to gain access to benefits for which they are entitled.
President Biden signed this reform into law on November 13, 2023.
THE KOREAN AMERICAN VALOR ACT
Senator Braun introduced the Korean American VALOR Act (S. 2648/H.R. 366) with Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii to allow Republic of Korea (ROK) Vietnam Veterans who fought alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, and who have since become naturalized U.S. citizens, access to medical services at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), paid for by the South Korean government.
Speaking to the need for this legislation, Senator Braun remarked, “This legislation guarantees that the men and women who bravely fought alongside U.S. troops and have become American citizens will have access to the care and benefits they deserve, paid for by the South Korean government.”
The bill requires the VA to enter into a reciprocal financial agreement with the ROK so the United States will be reimbursed for any expenses the Vietnam Veterans of the ROK Armed Forces incur at the VA. There are approximately 2,800 ROK Vietnam Veterans residing in the U.S. today, and they have experienced the same exposure to toxic chemicals as their American counterparts. This bill ensures they receive the same level of care as all other Vietnam Veterans. Korea will reimburse the U.S. for healthcare services VA furnishes to Korean American veterans. In exchange, the U.S. will reimburse Korea for the healthcare it provides to veterans of the U.S. armed forces residing in Korea. The U.S. has established reciprocal agreements with the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. Veterans from these nations do not need to be U.S. citizens to be eligible for care, and VA has the authority to treat veterans of any combat era.
President Biden signed this reform into law on November 13, 2023.
# # #