Senate Bill Would Expand VA Eligibility

In its written testimony submitted Oct. 30 to the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, The American Legion expressed support for draft legislation sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that would "expand and enhance eligibility for health care and services through the Department of Veterans Affairs."

Sanders' bill would take into account the varying income levels among counties in any given state, and also establish new statewide income thresholds, in determining veterans' eligibility for VA health care.

The bill further stipulates that all required modifications for implementation of the new income criteria must be completed within five years of enactment.

Currently, VA applies a nationwide Geographic Means Test (GMT) to a veteran's personal income, regardless of where he or she lives. If the income level is at or below the GMT, veterans are eligible for Priority Group 7 status; if the income is higher, they are assigned to the Priority 8 Group.

If they agree to pay the applicable co-payments, Group 7 veterans may enroll in VA health care. Group 8 veterans with non-service connected conditions whose incomes are higher than the GMT are not eligible for VA enrollment.

The American Legion supports the aim of Sanders' bill, and is also urging Congress to enact legislation that would direct VA to automatically enroll eligible veterans into its health-care system as soon as they leave active duty in the military – supported by Resolution 75, passed at the Legion's 95th annual convention in Houston last August.

Other Legion-backed bills pending in the Senate include:

• Rural Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Acts (S.1155 and S.1411)

• A bill that would "prohibit the use of the phrases GI Bill and Post-9/11 GI Bill to give a false impression of approval and endorsement by the Department of Veterans Affairs" (S.1211)

• Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act (S.1216)

• SCRA Enhancement and Improvement Act (bill number TBD)

• A bill that would require VA to inform veterans who file benefits claims electronically that "relevant services may be available from veterans service organizations" (S.1295)

• Servicemembers Electronic Health Records Act (S.1295)

• Mental Health Support for Veterans Families and Caregivers Act (bill number TBD)

To read the full text of any House or Senate bill, click here.

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Veteran Benefits