September 23, 2008 – Congress is moving closer to passing a package of veterans’ benefits improvements before adjourning for the year, but final details remain unclear.
The House of Representatives approved the Senate-passed Veterans’ Benefits Enhancement Act on Monday, as well as a compromise measure providing pensions to Filipino veterans who worked alongside U.S. troops in World War II. Both bills passed by voice vote but are not the final word.
The House made changes in the benefits package, S 1315, so the Senate has to reconsider the bill. The Filipino pensions bill, HR 6897, has no Senate counterpart and faces an uphill road to enactment because it proposes a one-time payment to about 19,000 surviving veterans, a compromise initiated in the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee that would be far less costly than the lifetime monthly pensions approved by the Senate.
One big difference in the benefits bill is that the House version includes changes in the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act that would let service members cancel or suspend cell phone, cable and Internet provider contracts when they are deployed outside the U.S. for 90 days or longer.
The staffs of the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees have been talking informally for several weeks, trying to work out compromises on veterans’ legislation in hopes of passing several bills before the current legislative session ends.
The end could come as early as this weekend, if lawmakers can reach agreements on a $700 billion bailout of financial markets, funding bills to keep the federal government running until at least January, and a $650 billion defense budget that includes money to keep operations going in Iraq and Afghanistan through at least the middle of next year.