“NO” on the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014

This week the Senate will vote on the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 (S. 1982) sponsored by Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) 20%.  Allegedly designed to extend and expand health care programs for veterans as well as job-assistance and education benefits, this multibillion dollar bill fails to make necessary reforms to the Veterans Affairs system that is already overburdened and flawed, harming both veterans truly in need of assistance and taxpayers in the process.

The Congressional Budget Office score of the bill shows it would cost roughly $24 billion over ten years.  As drafted, the bill would be paid for almost entirely from the overseas contingency operations (OCO) fund, which is not recognized as a real savings by the CBO.

The bill would greatly expand eligibility for certain veterans to receive services from the VA health care system, which is generally reserved for veterans with service-connected injuries, disabilities, and lower thresholds of income.  This massive expansion of eligibility would further prevent those truly in need from receiving the care they need because the program would have to service a much larger pool of veterans.

The bill also creates duplicative programs and fails to develop a system to weigh the benefits of existing programs.  Veterans currently receive assistance from the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) created by the Hire Heroes Act of 2011.  This program will be reauthorized at the cost of $1.1 billion, and new employment programs will be created, adding to the nearly half a dozen employment programs already in existence.

Even the VA and the Wounded Warrior Project have concerns with this bill’s expansion of certain benefits programs, especially the expansion of the caregiver provisions.  As we note, “Congress cannot saddle the VA with more responsibility until it demonstrates it can handle that which it has already assumed.”

Finally, the bill would interfere with the states’ autonomy, most critically with a mandate for colleges to offer blanket in-state tuition for veterans.

Heritage Action opposes S. 1982 and barring substantial alteration will include it as a vote on our legislative scorecard.

Related:

Heritage Action Scorecard
Sentinel Brief: Sanders’ Veterans Bill–Harmful to Veterans and Costly to Taxpayers