Eight Bills Clear Committee in Busy Markup Session
New Benefits for Veterans and Surviving Widows: New VA Hospitals and National Cemeteries To Be Built
June 26, 2003
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(Washington) - Comprehensive legislation (H.R. 2297) to expand and extend benefits to veterans and their surviving spouses cleared the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs in a markup session today. The Committee also approved legislation (H.R. 1720) to authorize $1.1 billion in new VA health care construction projects, legislation (H.R. 1516) to open five new national cemeteries for veterans and their Chairman Chris Smith with members of the Gold Star Wives of America families, and five other bills (H.R.116, H.R. 2357, H.R. 2433, H.R. 2595, H.Con.Res. 159) to assist and honor America's veterans.
"The package of bills approved today will make a tangible difference in the lives of millions of veterans and their families," said Congressman Chris Smith (NJ), Chairman of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "The new investments in health care facilities and national cemeteries authorized today are long overdue and much needed," he said.
Smith, who sponsored H.R. 2297, the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003, highlighted several provisions of that bill, including one for widows of veterans who want to remarry. "This legislation would correct an injustice for our Gold Star Wives, those who lost their husbands through service to our nation. This provision, which Rep. Michael Bilirakis of Florida has championed for years, would finally allow surviving spouses of veterans to be able to remarry after age 55 without being penalized with the loss of widow benefits, such as widow's pension or burial rights," said Smith.
H.R. 2297, as amended, would also:
Smith praised Veterans Health Subcommittee Chairman Rob Simmons (CT) and Benefits Subcommittee Chairman Henry Brown (SC) for their "the hard work and dedication of their respective Subcommittees in bringing forth such comprehensive packages of bills to expand benefits and improve the delivery of services to veterans."
"Chairman Simmons' bill to invest in VA's health care infrastructure, H.R. 1720, is absolutely vital to properly maintaining the VA health care system," said Smith. As amended and approved by the Committee, H.R. 1720, the Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act, would authorize $1.1 billion over two years for major medical facility construction projects to improve, renovate, replace, update or establish VA patient care facilities, including:
In addition, H.R. 1720 would require the Secretary to develop a specific plan for meeting the future inpatient hospitalization needs of veterans who live in southern New Jersey and certain counties in the state of Texas, as well as consider a joint VA-Navy medical facility proposal in Charleston, South Carolina. The Committee also approved H.R. 116, to authorize a new major medical facility - possibly a joint venture with the Air Force - at the site of the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center on the University of Colorado campus at Aurora. H.R. 116, sponsored by Rep. Joel Hefley of Colorado, authorizes $300 million for this project.
H.R. 1516, the National Cemetery Expansion Act of 2003, sponsored by Rep. Jim Gerlach (PA), and as amended by the Committee, directs VA to establish five new national cemeteries in the following areas: southeastern Pennsylvania; Birmingham, Alabama; Jacksonville, Florida; Bakersfield, California; and Greenville/Columbia, South Carolina. This legislation would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to submit a report to Congress within 120 days of enactment setting forth the five areas where those cemeteries will be established, a schedule for establishment, the estimated cost associated with establishment, and the amount of Advance Planning Funds obligated for this purpose. The bill would also require the Secretary to submit to Congress an annual report that updates the information included in the initial report until the five cemeteries are completed.
During the Committee's markup session, the following bills were also approved:
All eight bills approved by the Committee will be reported to the full House of Representatives for further consideration and possible floor action in July.