In Congress, my colleagues and I have not only been working around-the-clock to repeal and replace Obamacare, we have also been doing important work in our committees to cut red tape, advance pro-growth policies that will create jobs and provide essential oversight of government programs so we can improve them. This has been particularly true in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where we’ve already had an accountability bill signed into law as well as an extension of the Veterans Choice Act, which includes a provision of a bill I introduced which essentially makes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) the primary payer under Veterans Choice Program and protects many veterans from paying higher health care costs.
Most recently, a number of us who serve on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee introduced comprehensive legislation to enhance and improve veterans’ education benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Under our proposal, when returning veterans are able to access the educational benefits included in the Post-9/11 GI Bill, they will be better equipped to pursue a successful career in a competitive job market. We want every veteran to prosper as they transition into civilian life, and getting a great education is the first step toward a lucrative and rewarding career.
I’m pleased that our reform bill includes three bipartisan pieces of legislation that I introduced earlier this year, including a bill to add all Purple Heart recipients to the list of eligible veterans who can access full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Purple Heart recipients have made incredible sacrifices, and deserve to have full Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, regardless of the amount of time they served on active duty. The reform bill also includes my provision that would allow survivors of deceased service members, who had Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits transferred to them, to reallocate the benefits to another designated survivor. We know that when an individual decides to serve his or her country, their entire family makes sacrifices too. While they can never be fully repaid for their sacrifices, we’re hopeful that this change will make their lives a bit easier.
The third bill, the Veterans TEST Accessibility Act, included in the reform package specifically addresses veterans’ education opportunities. Under current law, veterans are required to use a full month of their Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility to be reimbursed for licensing, certification and national tests, such as those required to be an athletic trainer, fire fighter or medical technician. The bill I introduced would address this issue by reimbursing veterans for the cost of an approved test and pro-rating the affected month of eligibility to be used for future educational expenses, such as tuition. Many high-demand jobs, including those in the science, technology and engineering fields, require tests and certifications. This provision would make the reimbursement process fairer for veterans so they can get the credentials they need to compete for good jobs.
Our veterans have made incredible sacrifices for our country, and they should be able to fully use the benefits they’ve been promised when they enter civilian life. The name of the bill we introduced in the Senate is the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, named for the Army Air Service veteran who drafted the original GI bill, the purpose of which was to improve the transition into civilian life for returning veterans. I’m hopeful our bill will do the same. We expect it to pass out of committee in the next week, and I look forward to seeing it pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Trump soon.