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Dignified Burial and Other Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. MICHAUD. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

The bill before us today, the Dignified Burial and Other Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, S. 3202, is a minibus collection of veterans measures that primarily focus on ensuring that our veterans receive proper burials that reflect and honor their service. The bill also establishes and expands several health care and transition assistance benefits, and it names four VA health facilities after Americans with distinguished honor.

I appreciate the hard work of all of our colleagues in the House and in the Senate and of our staffs on the measures that were included in this bill. We all share the same goal--helping our veterans and their families receive the benefits that they have earned and deserve. This bill advances that goal, and I support its passage.

Title I of this bill will allow the Secretary of the VA to provide a casket or urn to those veterans who die without a known next of kin, without identification or without financial means, thereby ensuring that these veterans are laid to rest with the utmost dignity.

Mr. Speaker, there is also an allocation of $5 million in this title to attempt to address the longstanding maintenance, operation, and ownership issues at Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines. Along with soldiers and civilians of other nationalities, over 2,200 American veterans are buried at Clark. This provision will honor their sacrifices by setting up the process for Clark to become a permanent cemetery administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Clark continues to accept burials, including those from the Iraq war; and to ensure a smooth transition, it is critical that an agreement is reached between the two governments before it can become a permanent cemetery. I am confident that the ABMC will bring this cemetery up to its impeccable standards and that Congress will provide it the resources to do so.

Title II of the bill contains a vital provision requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs, with help from the Department of Defense, to establish a burn pit registry. This registry would be for our men and women who may have been exposed to toxic airborne chemicals and fumes caused by open burn pits. Every time we send our men and women into combat, we need to do all that we can to properly assess their risks of exposure to toxins. It has been decades, and we still do not fully understand the risks associated with one's exposure to agent orange, an exposure causing many veterans to suffer without compensation. We should learn from this history, and this bill puts us on track to avoid repeating it again.

Title II would also enhance VA transportation services to help more veterans access VA health care, and it contains a very timely measure that would extend the reporting requirement for posttraumatic stress disorder through 2016. The rate of PTSD remains high in the veteran population, and we must continue to keep this issue at the top of our radar as well as before Congress and the public so that we can continue to provide the funding that's needed.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, title III of this bill contains an important section that would direct the Department of Labor to provide the Transition Assistance Program, TAP, at locations other than at military installations. This 2-year pilot program will benefit our servicemembers and their spouses by providing additional opportunity to attend TAP and to learn about their earned benefits. Too many returning servicemembers are unable to take advantage of TAP. This is especially true for members of the National Guard and Reserve who often return from war to find that they lack the support military communities provide them. The TAP program is critical to a servicemember's successful transition back into civilian life, and I am glad to see it expanded.

Again, I want to thank the members and Chairman Miller for their leadership on this bill, and I urge all of my colleagues to support its passage.

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