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VA Construction Bill Passed by Senate

Location: Washington, DC

Will also speed up educational benefits for spouses of seriously wounded veterans

A bipartisan bill (S. 3421) which authorizes more than $2 billion in funding for numerous major medical facilities for veterans in 22 states, and which will also enable the spouses of seriously wounded servicemembers to obtain educational benefits sooner, passed the Senate Tuesday night by unanimous consent.

"Veterans across America should know that while Republicans and Democrats have our differences, when it comes to veterans, we are working together to make health care and education benefits more accessible," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the bill's sponsor who also serves as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "This legislation will ensure that the federal government makes continued progress on commitments already made and moves forward on projects which need to be completed."

Sen. Craig and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), who serves as the Ranking Member of the Committee, joined forces before the bill was passed and added an amendment which - if approved by the U.S. House of Representatives - will allow spouses of severely injured servicemembers to obtain educational benefits while the injured service member recuperates.

The amendment was prompted by a meeting Chairman Craig had with U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Jeff Mittman, a young man who was blinded after an attack in Iraq and is being treated at Walter Reed. Mittman has undergone 20 surgeries already and faces two more years of recovery while he remains on active duty.

"Our change will allow him to get the treatment he needs while his wife gets the education their family will need. This change will be a win-win for all. It's simply the right thing to do," Craig said.

Under current law, when a servicemember is discharged from the military as a "permanently and totally disabled" veteran, the veteran's spouse is eligible for education benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, through a program called Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance.

"The change, if agreed to by the House of Representatives, will speed up that process and benefit military families at no additional cost to taxpayers," Craig said.


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