Issue Position: Veterans
Ongoing deployments provide a constant reminder of our service members' sacrifices. Senator Maria Cantwell is dedicated to ensuring that the brave men and women of our armed forces who have given so much for their country receive the benefits they were promised. Maria has worked tirelessly to provide veterans and their families with the recognition and assistance they have earned.
Extending the GI Bill for Life
When Guard members and Reservists return home, they need increased access to education and additional training opportunities through the Montgomery GI Bill. While almost all soldiers contribute to the GI Bill program during their military service, only about half take advantage of the education benefits before they expire ten years later. Maria introduced the "GI Bill for Life" so that the men and women who serve our country will always have the door to higher education open to them. Veterans should not face an arbitrary time limit that keeps them from attending school. After leaving the military, some servicemembers postpone going to school in order to support their families. The GI Bill for Life would ensure that servicemembers and veterans can seek education and job training opportunities when it is the right time for them. In the seante this year, maria has also called on Congress to increase funding for the state programs that help veterans take advantage of their GI Bill benefits.
Fighting For Concurrent Receipt
Maria believes in full concurrent receipt. Disabled veterans should be able to receive both their retirement pay and their disability pay without one payment reducing the other. She has repeatedly cosponsored the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2001 and other bills to deliver improve concurrent receipt. While the final defense bills for the last three years have included some improvements for some veterans affected by the problem, not everyone has been helped. Maria continues to work for full concurrent receipt.
Ensuring Veterans Access to Health Care
Maria has been a tireless advocate of ensuring our nation's veterans have access to quality affordable health care. In 2005, when news broke that veterans were going to be charged higher annual fees and copays, Maria took to the floor of the U.S. Senate and fought for $2.7 billion in veterans' health care funding. Maria believes military retirees should be allowed to take a tax deduction for their TRICARE supplemental premiums. In 2003, Maria worked hard to block premature closures of VA health facilities across the nation with Senator Patty Murray. She pushed for a measure requiring a full study on the impact of closing any facility before any action was taken, and also supported a measure requiring a Congressional review before a facility could be scaled-back or closed. Maria has sought to make veterans health care a mandatory program, with funds set aside based on inflation and the size of the veterans population, as part of the Veterans Health Care Funding Guarantee Act.
Demanding Answers for Veterans and Their Families on Depleted Uranium
Maria is concerned about the potential impact on our troops and civilian populations from long-term exposure to depleted uranium. While the health effects of exposure to depleted uranium have been a subject of debate, some scientific studies have found that the chemical toxicity of depleted uranium may cause kidney damage and may be carcinogenic, depending on the concentration and duration of exposure. To make sure we fully understand the health impact of depleted uranium munitions on our troops and their children, Maria worked to have the Senate unanimously pass her amendment calling for a comprehensive study from the Secretary of Defense, with support from the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services. Maria knows we must ensure we adequately measure exposure to depleted uranium, study the long-term effects of exposure, and understand its full impact on the health of America's men and women in uniform. We owe it to our troops to make sure that we fully understand the science behind this issue.
Improving the Survivors Benefit Plan
Maria has also worked hard to improve the Survivors Benefit Plan by ending reductions in payments to survivors because of their Social Security income and payments for those who are killed who totally disabled on active duty. Many of these improvements, with Maria's support, became law in 2004.
As a member of the House in 1993, Maria cosponsored a bipartisan bill to help military retirees receive their full cost of living adjustments (COLAs) in a timely way. Her support helped fix an accounting issue that would have delayed by several months cost of living increases for military retirees.