Provisions Included in Bill Now Headed to President's Desk
(September 30, 2010 -- Washington, D.C.) After years of working to increase burial benefits for America's veterans, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley today celebrated passage of legislative provisions she authored that modernize payments to families of veterans. The burial benefits help cover final expenses for veterans, including a grave marker or headstone recognizing a loved one's military service.
"Veterans deserve to be laid to rest with full recognition of their military service and by increasing these benefits we can defray costs for families who might otherwise be unable to cover such an expense. This legislation increases payments so that veterans and their loved ones can have peace of mind when planning for their final arrangements," said Berkley (NV). "Veterans who proudly served our nation are entitled to benefit payments to help cover the cost of their final arrangements. But over time, inflation has eroded the purchasing power of these payments, leaving it to families and states to cover any extra costs. In addition to increasing payments, my legislative language also directs the VA Secretary to increase benefits regularly to keep pace with inflation."
The House approved H.R. 3219, Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010, on Wednesday and the bill -- which contains Berkley's burial benefit improvement provisions -- is now headed to the President's desk for signature. Specifically, the Berkley provisions increase the amount paid for the burial and funeral of a veteran who dies in a VA facility or the plot allowance for a deceased veteran who is eligible for burial at a national cemetery from $300 to $700, effective October 1, 2011. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) is also directed to provide an annual percentage increase in relation to the Consumer Price Index.
Following approval of the bill, the Congresswoman spoke about her multi-year effort to modernize burial benefits for vets in Nevada and nationwide on the House floor and her remarks are below. Video can also be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq3pIAjvUZk.
"It is this nation's responsibility, indeed it is our honor, to provide care to the brave men and women who have served this nation so well and have sacrificed much on behalf of the rest of us. This legislation goes a long way to address many of the needs of our veterans.
"About 13 years ago when I was first contemplating running for Congress, I met with a group of veterans, and then I met with another group and another group, all within the Las Vegas area. And I wasn't particularly surprised when they told me that they didn't think they got the quality of care that was due them through the V.A. and I wasn't surprised when they told me we didn't have a V.A. hospital in the Southern Nevada area or that we had a large number of homeless veterans.
"But what surprised me more than anything was family after family spoke of how difficult it was when the time came to bury their family member who was a veteran, that they had a difficult time finding the money, that they could make a decent burial for this veteran.
"So I couldn't understand exactly why that was. I knew that we were providing veteran benefits in order to bury our veterans and to give them grave markers and then I came to Congress and started serving on the Veterans' Affairs Committee and I learned that the original bill that provided this funding was not indexed to inflation and consequently the value continued to diminish with every passing year.
"We have not changed the amount of money that we provided families for burying their veteran family members since the early 1970's. This bill finally, after introducing legislation year after year that I've been here in Congress, finally this piece of legislation provides the funding and moves us in the right direction so that families don't have a tremendous hardship when they bury their family members who were veterans and had fought for this nation.
"I could not be happier that we are doing this. It is an important piece of legislation. People don't realize it until you are in that position yourself. I'm glad that the Veterans' Committee and the House and the Senate have all recognized the importance of increasing these benefits.
"We've included these provisions today in the bill before us. Our veterans deserve to be laid to rest with the full recognition of their military service. This bill is a step in the right direction.
"We always talk about supporting our veterans. You hear it here, each one of us talks about supporting our veterans. This is a piece of legislation that we can actually demonstrate our support of our veterans."