Bipartisan Action in Support of Veterans Taken Before Congress Leaves for Recess
On August 6, for the second time in as many weeks, President Obama signed legislation to expand and enhance the services and resources available for our service members, veterans and their families. The Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 and the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act, represent bipartisan actions to help address numerous challenges regarding access to housing, programs serving homeless veterans, employment training, health care and education.
On July 23, the President signed the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act. The law grants federal licensing agents the ability to consider and accept relevant training received during military service as a form of training eligible to satisfy requirements to obtain a license. More clarity around the details of the new authority, such as what military trainings could be applicable to various federal licenses, will come in the next six months as proposed regulations are developed and made available.
At a bill signing ceremony in the Oval Office for The Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, the President said, "I think all Americans feel we have a moral, sacred duty towards our men and women in uniform. They protect our freedom, and it's our obligation to do right by them. This bill takes another important step in fulfilling that commitment." The President continued, "I'm glad that Congress passed this bill and I hope that we can continue to do some more good bipartisan work in protecting our veterans."
"This legislation is a culmination of more than a year's worth of work on behalf of America's veterans, and an example of what lawmakers can accomplish working together in a bipartisan manner," said Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs following the bill's passage out of the House of Representatives. "The Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 will make an immediate impact in the lives of veterans, their families, and survivors by providing the care and support they have earned through their service to our nation."
The legislation provides multiple improvements to programs that provide housing to disabled veterans. The VA's Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) program's eligibility criteria will be temporarily expanded, in part, to include veterans with balance problems resulting from injuries that impact their ability to move without restriction. The bill allows funds available through the Special Home Adaptation (SHA) and the SAH programs to be used to modify the home of a family member and not count toward the lifetime grant amount available to the veteran. Additionally, the amount of money eligible to be used to modify a family member's home is increased from $14,000 under SAH and $2,000 under SHA, to $28,000 and $5,000 respectively. These changes will help ensure that more injured veterans can receive care and begin the difficult transition to civilian life surrounded by family before living on their own.
In another housing related provision, the legislation retroactively re-authorizes the enhanced-use lease program. The program allows VA land to be developed or rehabilitated and used by non-VA entities that serve veterans. The program's authorization had expired on December 31, 2011, creating uncertainty around the status of several EUL projects already underway as well as the future of the entire program. This unique program provides cities near VA property with the opportunity to collaborate with government agencies to provide services to veterans in a more comprehensive and streamlined manner. The legislation refines the program requirements, by mandating that EUL projects serve veterans who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.
The law makes several other changes in an effort to help focus federal resources on better serving homeless veterans. The HUD-VASH program is amended to allow the VA to consider providing case management services to veterans through outside contracts with state or local governments, tribal organizations or nonprofit organizations. Additionally, the eligibility for VA services is expanded to include homeless veterans who are not seriously mentally ill and male homeless veterans with minor dependents.
Another housing-related provision expands the VA grant and per diem program authorizations to cover costs related to the construction of new housing. Previously, these program resources were limited to covering the expansion, remodeling and alteration of existing buildings. Other housing related provisions impact the caring of elderly and severely service-disabled veterans and eligibility changes to the VA's home loan guarantee program.