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Begich Fights to Expand Health Care Access for Veterans, Knock Out Claims Backlog

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A landmark package to expand veterans' benefits would increase access to health care and help end the benefits backlog, said U.S. Senator Mark Begich, one of the chief sponsors of the bill.

The legislation passed a key Senate hurdle Tuesday but certain members of the Senate are now threatening the bill's future with procedural delays.

Begich, who serves on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, authored several bills included in the comprehensive legislation.

"America has a contract with its veterans, and I believe we must take care of those who have sacrificed so much on our behalf," said Begich. "I hear regularly from many of the 77,000 veterans who call Alaska home. I made sure their priorities, like tuition assistance, job training, and better access to health and dental care are included in this bill. What is unfortunate is that my colleagues continue to play politics --getting too wrapped up in procedural bureaucracy - with the benefits of our military men and women who have sacrificed for this country. I will be working in the days ahead to fight through that gridlock to see that we keep our promises to our veterans. I urge my colleagues to do the right thing and pass this bill. "

Among the most widely supported provisions include the following:

Provides in-state tuition assistance for Post-9/11 veterans;

Authorizes advanced appropriations for VA's mandatory funding accounts to ensure any government shutdown environment not delay veterans' benefits payments such as pensions or tuition assistance;

Reauthorize provisions from the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 to encourage small businesses and non-profits to hire veterans by awarding tax credits;

Improve delivery of care and benefits to veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military;

Expand access to VA health care and dental care, and

Improve the VA claims system to help end the benefits backlog.

S. 1982 also would restore full cost of living allowance (COLA) payments for all military members. Congress took action earlier this month to restore full pension payments for service members who enlisted before Jan. 1, 2014.

The veterans' package has received letters of support from over 30 Veterans Service Organizations and advocacy groups, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, and Military Officers Association of America.

The bill cleared a procedural hurdle in Senate yesterday by a vote of 99-0. The next vote has not yet been scheduled.

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