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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Sanders Bill Seeks $30 Billion In New Veterans Benefits

When federal lawmakers finally came to a budget deal last month, they did so at the expense of military retirees. The congressional spending plan reduced cost-of-living adjustments for veterans’ pensions. And that provision is expected to cost former service members $6 billion in lost income over the next 10 years. 

But Sen. Bernie Sanders says the U.S. Senate will soon take up a 400-page bill that would not only restore the pension benefits, but strengthen other programs and services for veterans. Sanders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, spoke about the bill in a conference call Wednesday.

“If you are a veteran out there who cannot access VA health care, we are going to enable you to do that. If your teeth are rotting in your mouth, and you can’t come into the system, we’re going to help you do that.” Sanders said. “If you’re taking care of a Vietnam veteran right now and you’re not getting any help right now, we’re going to do that as well.”

The bill proposes $30 billion in new spending over the next 10 years. It would expand dental coverage, boost college benefits for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and give vets access to alternative medicine.

Sanders said the bill would also ramp up retraining programs for veterans struggling to find work, and direct federal agencies to hire 15,000 veterans over the next five years.

“Look, if there’s a young man from northern Vermont who comes back from Iraq and Afghanistan and can’t find a job, you know what? I think we should deal with that,” Sanders said.

The bill’s prospects look bright in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll take it up quickly, according to Sanders. But its future is less certain in the House. That’s because Sanders wants to pay for the measures in his bill with money that had previously been allocated for spending on overseas military conflicts. And that’s not a popular plan among the House Republicans whose support will be needed to win passage.

Sanders said he’s thinks House Republicans will see the necessity of passing the legislation.

“And I believe that I speak for a majority of the American people who say, yeah … it costs money, yes it does,” Sanders said. “But these are provisions which are sensible provisions and that they’re something that our veterans are entitled to.”

National advocacy groups say the bill is the most expansive piece of veterans legislation in recent memory.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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