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Omnibus Veterans’ Bill Expands Benefits to Guard

vet bill
vet bill
Washington Report

The Senate passed legislation last week that would make more National Guardsmen and their families eligible for some popular veterans’ benefits.  

House lawmakers are expected to pass the bill, the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvements Act of 2020, this week and send it to the president for his signature.

NGAUS strongly supports the legislation and assisted the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees with its formulation.

One provision would credit service under Title 32 (federally funded but under state control) toward the Department of Veterans Affairs home loan program.

The threshold for a no-money-down, VA-guaranteed mortgage would be 90 cumulative days for other than training, with at least one period of 30 consecutive days.

Currently, Guardsmen qualify for the program only if they have 90 consecutive days of Title 10 service (fully federal) or six years of total service.    

Another provision would expand eligibility for the Fry Scholarship for the children and spouses of troops who died on or after Sept. 11, 2001, as a result of their military service.

The language would remove the requirement that the death occurred while on active duty. This means deaths that occur on weekend drills and other training would apply. So, too, would those that result from a service-connected disability.

Named for Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry, who was killed in Iraq in 2006, the scholarship is similar to the full benefit of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill educational benefit. It includes full in-state tuition at public schools, money for housing, and a stipend for books and supplies.

The legislation would also provide a presumption of service-connection for service members who contract the coronavirus within 14 days of the completion of duty in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And it would also expand counseling for military sexual trauma at VA facilities to former Guardsmen and reservists, who now only receive such counseling if they are current members of the Guard or Reserve.

The same provision would also allow the VA to treat physical health conditions arising from MST, not just mental health conditions.

Additional language would extend federal employment protections and reemployment rights to Guardsmen who serve at least 14 days of state active duty or who are mobilized to respond to a national emergency or natural disaster.

Currently, there are no job protections for state active duty.

The legislation honors a former chairman of Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the outgoing ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, left the Senate last year for health reasons. Roe, a Republican from Tennessee, did not seek reelection to the House this year.