Veterans in Georgia and throughout the United States saw a lot of changes occur at the Department of Veterans Affairs and in Congress over the past couple of weeks. While their ultimate effect on veterans benefits and services remains to be seen, the changes represent movement in a bureaucracy often known for its glacial swiftness. The hope is that more veterans will ultimately receive the services and benefits they need more quickly and efficiently.
The first major event was that Robert Wilkie – the White House’s nominee for VA secretary – had a successful hearing before the Senate Committee of Veterans’ Affairs last week. This is good news for the agency and the veterans who rely on it. The administration fired the previous secretary, David Shulkin, in March amid a scandal. The nominee to replace Shulkin withdrew after allegations about his behavior and charges of professional misconduct were levied against him. Crossing this initial hurdle is a major step for Wilkie.
The event that most directly affects veterans, however, was passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. The House unanimously passed the bill and sent it onto the Senate, which is also expected to sign off on the bill. The act allows Navy veterans who may have been exposed to chemicals and other defoliants – such as Agent Orange – while serving on ships in coastal waters during the war to receive benefits for any maladies caused by the exposure.
The House version of a defense authorization bill also aims to offer some additional benefits to veterans with service-related disabilities and recipients of Purple Hearts. The Defense Department has stated that it conditionally supports language in the bill that would allow some 4.3 million veterans to shop and take advantage of recreational services on military bases. This measure could help to reduce base commissaries’ current reliance on taxpayer dollars.