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Begich Bill to Expand Veteran Benefits Clears Legislative Hurdle

Closes Legal Loophole, Protects Veterans Who Are Victims of Domestic Violence

Legislation spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Mark Begich to expand benefits to homeless veterans cleared a critical legislative hurdle in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee today.

Sen. Begich’s bill closes a loophole in the law that fails to recognize homeless veterans with the same standards as the civilian definition of homelessness.  As a result of this loophole, veterans who became homeless as a result of domestic violence are ineligible for certain benefits.   

“Alaska has the highest number of veterans per capita and alarmingly high rates of domestic violence, so it’s all the more important that this bill receive a vote,” said Sen. Begich, a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. “I’m pleased that it cleared a major hurdle today and I will work with my colleagues to make sure our vets have the benefits they have earned and deserve.”

Existing law recognizes individuals who have been forced from their homes by domestic violence as “homeless” but “homeless veterans” are not recognized. In order to qualify for benefits to homeless veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), they must meet the definition of homeless in the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.  Sen. Begich’s bill updates the legal definition of “homeless veteran” in this law.

The bill also improves services for homeless veterans by increasing the per diem payment for transitional housing assistance and authorizing per diem payments to dependents of homeless veterans. 

“Just this morning I met with a member of our Alaska Army National Guard and veterans groups at the Capitol to discuss issues affecting our vets and to get Alaska veterans’ unique perspective,” said Begich. “We can never do enough to support the men and women who have served this country, which is all the more reason we need to double down on our efforts to streamline the delivery of health care to our veterans, fix the backlog of claims, and make sure our vets get the full range of benefits owed to them.”

Other successful provisions Sen. Begich supported that will benefit Alaska veterans include efforts to:

Increase Compensation for Veterans with Disabilities – 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.

Put Veterans Back to Work - Reauthorizes the VOW to Hire Heroes Act to improve enforcement of employment and reemployment rights of members of the uniformed services.

Improve Access to Reproductive Assistance for Female Veterans – Improves the reproductive assistance provided by the VA to severely wounded, ill, or injured veterans and their spouses.

Enforce Equal Treatment for Military Spouses - Amends the law to add a definition of spouse for purposes of veteran benefits that recognizes new State definitions of spouse.

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