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Committee Also Included 3 Hirono Proposals That Will Have Big Impact For Hawaii Vets—Specifically Native Hawaiian Vets & Those Who Live On Hawaii Island

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono and her Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee colleagues voted to approve eight bills today that aim to help jobless vets find employment opportunities, improve assistance for homeless vets, improve care for female vets and keep benefits pegged to increases in the cost of living. The committee also approved three Hirono proposals that make it easier for Native Hawaiian vets and those who live on Hawaii Island to access programs that help veterans, as well as a measure similar to a Heller-Hirono bill that would help identify Filipino World War II vets who were wrongly denied compensation by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that was approved by Congress in 2009.

“The millions of veterans across our nation and the some 110,000 living in Hawaii have done so much to protect our freedom, yet too many struggle to find stable jobs, get adequate health care or even put a roof over their heads,” Hirono said. “These bipartisan measures approved by my colleagues would make progress in improving the lives of veterans by helping jobless vets find jobs, improving assistance for homeless vets and improving health care for female vets. I am also pleased the committee included three proposals I authored that will specifically improve programs for Native Hawaiian and Hawaii Island vets. I urge the full Senate and the House to quickly approve these measures so we can start giving our veterans the help they deserve.”

Yesterday Hirono introduced three amendments to help Hawaii’s veterans. Two of Hirono’s amendments would help unemployed Native Hawaiian and Hawaii Island veterans access programs to help get jobs. Another Hirono amendment would ensure that Native Hawaiian-serving organizations are eligible to be considered for public/private partnerships to assist homeless vets.

The Filipino WWII vets measure included in the package calls on the VA to review the process it uses to verify Filipino WWII veterans’ service and grant compensation provided by Congress in the 2009 Investment & Recovery Act. Many Filipino World War II veterans who applied for compensation could not meet the VA’s standards for documentation of their service, and this measure would allow the VA to work with the Department of Defense and military historians to help address various issues with the current process.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 110,000 vets live in Hawaii. In 2012, the VA estimated 5.5% of Hawaii veterans were unemployed – a number that works out to more than 6,000 vets. In 2009, the VA estimated that Hawaii is home to almost 500 homeless veterans.

Below are summaries of the eight bills passed by the committee, as well as Hirono’s proposals that were included as amendments to two of the bills:

Putting Our Veterans Back to Work Act:
Reauthorizes the VOW to Hire Heroes Act and improves enforcement of employment and reemployment rights of members of the uniformed services. The bill also makes other changes to the law that increases employment opportunities for veterans. Hirono offered two amendments to this legislation.

  • HIRONO AMENDMENT: Outreach To Native Hawaiian Veterans For New Jobs Programs
    Native Hawaiian veterans and native veterans who do not live on tribal lands are not mentioned in the bill, which potentially excludes them from targeted outreach efforts. Hirono’s amendment essentially expands the scope of native veteran outreach to include organizations that serve these populations.
  • HIRONO AMENDMENT: Transportation Assistance For Hawaii Island Veterans In New Jobs Programs
    With more than 80 miles between towns like Hawi and Hilo, Hawaii Island’s geography can make transportation a challenge for some Hawaii veterans seeking to participate in new U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employment assistance programs. Hirono’s amendment would enable veterans to receive transportation subsidies for commutes up to 150 miles to and from their job site.

Helping Homeless Veterans Act:
Improves assistance to homeless veterans by expanding the definition of “homeless veteran” to include those fleeing domestic violence and allows the VA to increase the number of veterans from transitional housing programs to permanent housing.

  • HIRONO AMENDMENT: Include Native Hawaiian Organizations For Public/Private Partnerships Providing Legal Services To Homeless Veterans
    Hirono’s amendment includes Native Hawaiian-serving organizations among the entities the VA can consider in distributing the partnerships with public/private entities to provide legal services to homeless veterans.

Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act:
Improves the reproductive assistance provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to severely wounded, ill, or injured veterans and their spouses by clarifying that fertility counseling and treatment, including through assisted reproductive technology, are included in the VA medical services package.

Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act:
Improves the provision of medical services and benefits to veterans. The bill also directs VA, in consultation with the Department of Defense, to review the process for determining whether certain individuals have the requisite service requirements for purposes of receiving specific Filipino veterans’ benefits.

Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act:
Adds a definition of spouse for purposes of veteran benefits to enable same-sex couples to be eligible for relevant VA spousal benefits.

Caregivers Expansion and Improvement Act:
Extends VA’s Family Caregiver Program to all seriously injured veterans incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, regardless of era. Services include in-home and community based care, respite care, caregiver education and training programs and caregiver support groups.

Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act:
Increases the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for the survivors of certain disabled veterans. The increase would be in accordance with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI), the same index that determines the annual rate adjustments for Social Security benefits.

Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act:
Requires a judicial authority to make a determination that a VA beneficiary poses a danger to themselves or others before being added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.