October 13, 2008 – President Bush signed two veterans’ bills into law Friday, an omnibus benefits bill and a package of health-related legislation.
The Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act expands the VA home loan program, attempts to improve the processing of disability claims and strengthens enforcement of employment and reemployment rights for reservists. It also allows service members deployed overseas for 90 days or longer or who make a permanent change-of-station move to cancel or suspend a cell phone contract without penalties or extra fees.
The Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act increases the mileage reimbursement rate for beneficiary travel to 28.5 center per mile, relaxes rules for reimbursing community hospitals providing emergency treatment for veterans so they do not have to be moved out of the hospital as quickly, and increases funding for programs to prevent homelessness for veterans.
The health bill also includes an expansion of veterans’ mental health programs to provide wider treatment for those with substance abuse programs and more ways of trying to help suicidal veterans.
One change in the benefits law that would be vital to many veterans at a time of turmoil in the home mortgage market is an overhaul of the veterans’ home loan program that makes it easier for people with non-VA loans to refinance their mortgages through VA. This is done by raising the amount VA will guarantee and reducing the amount of equity a homeowner must have in order to refinance.
Several changes are aimed at cutting the processing time for veterans’ disability checks, but there is another simple change that also would help veterans by directing VA to simplify the notices sent out when benefits claims are incomplete or rejected so they are easier for the veterans to understand.
Mental health provisions of the health bill set new standards for treating substance abuse, and expand efforts to treat veterans who have mental health disorders such as PTSD and also have substance abuse problems.