Issue Position: Veterans Affairs
When I took office in 1999, I committed to making veterans a constituent service priority. My father served in the U.S. Army during World War II and my family has a deep respect for those who have served our country in uniform. I also know from my father's experience how important health care benefits can be for veterans and their families.
My view is that if you have served our country and risked your life for our freedom, your government owes you a debt of gratitude that includes comprehensive health care and benefits that match your sacrifice. As many as 700,000 veterans and armed forces personnel from the war in Afghanistan and Iraq are expected to enter the military and VA health care systems in the coming years; I believe it is our solemn moral obligation to make sure that spending on benefits and health care keeps pace with the rising numbers of those who have served. While the current administration purports to share this view, the president's budget has not kept faith with veterans.
I was proud to vote earlier this year to increase spending on veteran's medical care by $2.5 billion over the president's request. The Veterans Health Administration estimates it will treat more than 5.8 million patients in 2008, including more than 263,345 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, 54,000 more than in fiscal year 2007. This is an area of federal spending where scrimping is unconscionable, and I look forward to continuing my efforts to secure the benefits that our veterans deserve.
It's Time to End the Disabled Veterans Tax for All Military Retirees
Approximately 33% of retired veterans in Colorado are subject to the "Disabled Veterans Tax." These veterans lose over $75 million in benefits each year as a result of this unfair tax. I have joined as a cosponsor of H.R. 303, the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2007, which would allow the receipt of both military retired pay and veterans' disability compensation with respect to any service-connected disability. This legislation would effectively end this tax and essentially restore full benefits to thousands of veterans in Colorado. I will continue to work with the Democratic leadership and my colleagues in the House to eliminate the Disabled Veterans Tax.
Adequate Benefits for Surviving Spouses of Military Retirees
During active duty and retirement, military retirees pay a premium so that their surviving spouses will continue to have income from the "Survivor Benefits Plan" (SBP). The plan provides monthly income upon the death of the retiree, which amounts to 55% of the retiree's benefit. However, when the surviving spouse reaches age sixty two, the SBP benefit is reduced to 35% of the retiree's benefit. I believe that this penalty (based upon the age of the surviving spouse) should be eliminated, and I am a proud cosponsor of a bill in the 110th Congress (H.R. 1589) that would eliminate this penalty.