December 11, 2015

Hirono Successfully Advocates For Improvements To Veterans’ Services

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Approves Wide-Ranging Bill With Hirono Provisions

Two of Senator Mazie K. Hirono’s proposals to improve services for veterans and their families were approved by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee as part of S. 425, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Programs Reauthorization Act. Senator Hirono’s provisions expedite the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) survivors benefits claims process and improve VA practices to recruit physicians.

“The Homeless Veterans Reintegration Programs Reauthorization Act makes progress on ensuring that veterans and their families receive the care and services that they have earned,” said Senator Hirono. “My provisions will eliminate cumbersome paperwork from the survivors’ claims process and ensure that VA physicians have more flexible schedules like their private sector colleagues, making VA service more attractive for health professionals. I look forward to working with my colleagues to see this bill through the full Senate.” 

S.425 is a wide-ranging omnibus bill that also expands support for homeless veterans, restores GI Bill benefits for those affected by closure of educational institutions such as Heald College, supports caregivers, and improves VA health care’s pain management guidelines.

The bill incorporates two bills authored by Sen. Hirono, S. 1450, the Department of Veterans Affairs Emergency Staffing Recruitment and Retention Act and S. 1451, the Veterans' Survivors Claims Processing Automation Act. 

S. 1450 allows VA Medical Centers to implement flexible physician and physician assistant work schedules. Currently, the VA’s policies don’t sync up with how private sector medical professionals manage their schedules. Hospitalist and Emergency Medicine physicians specialize in the care of patients in the hospital, often needing to work irregular work schedules to accommodate the need for continuity of efficient hospital care. Senator Hirono’s provision would give the VA authority to align VA policies with the private sector, facilitating the recruitment, retention of emergency physicians and the recruitment, retention and operation of a hospitalist physician system at VA medical centers. This provision is supported by the VA, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Legion, Concerned Veterans for America, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

S. 1451 eliminates the need for survivors or spouses of deceased or totally and permanently disabled veterans to file a formal claim before the VA settles and pays claims for survivors benefits.  Right now, survivors or spouses of veterans have to file a formal claim and go through an often lengthy process in order to receive VA survivors benefits, like burial/funeral benefits or disability pensions, for veterans who are deceased or totally and permanently disabled. Senator Hirono’s provision would give the VA authority to pay a survivors claim without a formal application when sufficient evidence is already on record.  The authority would allow automation of the following benefit categories: VA burial/funeral benefits, VA dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), VA Survivors Pension, and VA payment of certain accrued benefits upon death of a beneficiary to survivors. The VA, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, AMVETS, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and American Federation of Government Employees support this provision.