Veterans in Tennessee, as well as those from elsewhere in the U.S., can look forward to some welcome changes on the horizon. In recent weeks, Congress has made several strides toward improving the levels and extent of services at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is one of the federal government’s largest agencies. Ultimately, if all comes to fruition, many more individuals will be eligible for certain veterans benefits, and the agency as a whole will finally see some stability in its leadership.
At the end of June, the House of Representatives passed, in a 382-0 vote, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. Once passed by the Senate – which is expected to happen – and signed by the president, the law will expand the benefits available to 90,000 Navy veterans who were exposed to chemical exfoliants while serving in the coastal waters of Southeast Asian during the Vietnam War. Veterans who were on the ground during the war receive benefits to treat several maladies that have been linked to chemicals, such as Agent Orange. Navy vets, on the other hand, have been denied treatment for most such illnesses.
In another move, in its version of the next defense authorization bill, the House has attached language that would permit 4.3 million disabled veterans and Purple Heart recipients to take advantage of the commissaries and certain other services on military bases. Faced with stiff competition from discounters and online retailers, most commissaries are not self-supporting and rely on taxpayer dollars to remain open. This measure would seek to alleviate such reliance.
Finally, the White House nominee for VA secretary, Robert Wilkie, sailed through his hearing in the Committee of Veterans’ Affairs in the Senate. In light of the agency’s recent struggles with leadership – no secretary has been in place since March, when David Shulkin was fired – this is welcome news. Passing the committee opens the door to Wilkie’s eventual confirmation.