Nevada has one of the fastest growing veterans' communities in the nation. Today, one in eight Nevadans are veterans, and this number will continue to grow in the future. I have long fought to ensure that our service members, veterans, and their families receive the retirement and health care benefits that they were promised and deserve.
21st Century G.I. Bill: A Victory For Nevada’s Veterans
In 2008, I was proud to have cosponsored and led passage of an expansion of the G.I. Bill, Senator Jim Webb’s Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. I was also an ardent supporter of the G.I. Bill 2.0, officially known as the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act that was enacted in January 2011. The G.I. Bill 2.0 gives the new greatest generation the opportunity to receive full in-state tuition at public institutions and up to $17,500 in tuition at private or foreign institutions of higher education. In addition, the expanded G.I. Bill ensures that our National Guard Soldiers and veterans are eligible and receive credit for time served on Title 32 or in the full-time Active Guard and Reserve. Soldiers and veterans will also be able to transfer G.I. Bill benefits to their spouse or children.
At a time when over two million men and women have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and when our troops have had to endure multiple deployments, giving them the opportunity to pursue higher education and help fuel our future economy is the least we can do. We can never fully repay our veterans for their service, but with the new G.I. Bill, we can fulfill our pledge to continue supporting them beyond their tours of duty.
To learn more about the G.I. Bill, click here to visit the Department of Veterans Affairs' Web site.
To help Nevada students that are interested in pursuing higher education, I put together this resource guide, The Path to College: Resource Guide for Nevada Students (PDF).
In 2009, I was pleased to support a number of provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) that will directly benefit our active duty service members, as well as veterans. I worked to obtain nearly $20 million in economic recovery funding for construction of important improvements to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Reno’s Veterans Administration (VA) hospital, and the Hawthorne Army Depot. These construction projects provided desperately needed jobs for Nevadans looking for work as the economy continues to recover from the recession. More than $13 million has been dedicated to construction of a new Child Development Center at Nellis AFB. In Reno, more than $5.5 million is slated to make vital repairs and improvements to the VA hospital serving northern Nevada’s veterans. And the Hawthorne Army Depot’s family housing area will benefit from a new water main, a project of nearly $1 million.
Hiring our Returning Service Members
I was a proud co-sponsor of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, which provides a tax credit of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, as well as a $2,400 credit for veterans who are unemployed for more than 4 weeks, but less than 6 months. It also provides a tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months. The law also makes the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), an interagency workshop coordinated by Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs, mandatory for service members moving on to civilian life to help them secure employment through resume writing workshops and career counseling. These important benefits will help ensure that those who fought so bravely for our country are able to find work after they transition from the service.
On March 11, 2010, I met with Nevada veterans of the Women’s Air Service Pilots who were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
Air America was a top-secret passenger and cargo airline owned and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency during the Cold War. Despite accepting high-risk missions in the service of our government – 86 Air America pilots and crew members were killed in action -- the veterans of Air America have been denied federal retirement benefits. This is why I introduced the Air America Veterans Act. I was able to include this legislation in the Department of Defense Authorization Act for 2010, beginning the process of providing Air America veterans with federal retirement benefits by requiring the Director of National Intelligence to determine who would be eligible. A report on Air America operations, pay and benefits was submitted to Congress in the Fall of 2011. The report highlights some of the unrivaled actions taken by these quiet heroes during the Vietnam.
Although the report is not favorable in recommending federal retirement benefits for this small group of dedicated, American patriots, I will continue to seek ways to work towards the ultimate goal of providing such benefits to these Americans who carried out remarkable actions for the freedoms that all we all enjoy today.
Supporting our Fallen Heroes
I have been a strong advocate of supporting our fallen heroes. To this end, I secured a $3.4 million grant to expand the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City. This grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs will go towards developing nearly 5,000 additional burial plots on more than 17 acres of land. The funds will also support construction of an administrative building, roads, a committal shelter, cremains burial areas, landscaping, and supporting infrastructure.
Cold War Heroes
The Cold War is a period of great importance in the history of our democracy. In the face of the Soviet threat, brave Americans made significant sacrifices to protect the United States. Regrettably, those who gave their lives in the Cold War have never been properly honored. Perhaps no state in the Union played a more significant role than Nevada in winning the Cold War. Of the 1,149 nuclear detonations conducted by the U.S. as part of the nuclear testing program, 1,021 were performed at the Nevada Test Site. Many Nevadans sacrificed their lives for our country during the Cold War, and our state continues to bear the cost of the Cold War effort. In 2009, we were able to pass the Cold War Historical Sites Study Act, which requires the Department of the Interior to evaluate sites and resources for commemorating and interpreting the Cold War, including the Mount Charleston Plane Crash Memorial. This legislation will help provide long-due recognition by commemorating the heroes of the Cold War and teaching future generations about this period of American history.
Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC)
I worked with the Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission on veterans health to open a fully-operational CBOC in Fallon. I am also continuing my efforts to develop new CBOCs in Elko and Laughlin, and four new CBOCs to serve the Las Vegas area. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) operates CBOCs on a bi-weekly basis in Auburn, Minden, Susanville and Winnemucca to better serve the veterans located all across the State of Nevada.
Since 2007, I worked with the USO to establish a 2,000 square foot rest and relaxation lounge, which opened inside McCarran Airport in Las Vegas in 2010. This is a great service the USO provides to the 55,000 members of all branches of the U.S. military who pass through the airport each year, and I am proud to have helped our service members while they are travelling.
I have long fought to ensure that our disabled veterans receive both the disability and retired pay that they have earned. Current law prevents veterans classified as disabled by the VA from collecting both disability pay and retirement pay, known as "concurrent receipt," regardless of the fact that they are eligible for both. As a result, Nevada's veterans have faced the obstacle of forfeiting retirement pay dollar-for-dollar if they received disability compensation. In some cases, this practice eliminates the full retirement pay to which they are entitled. On February 14, 2011, I introduced the Retired Pay Restoration Act. This legislation would eliminate the remaining obstructions to concurrent receipt so that all disabled veterans will receive the full benefits that they have so justly earned and deserve. This legislation was offered as an amendment to the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, however, this amendment did not pass the full Senate. I will continue to work with my colleagues to get this important legislation passed.
Veterans In Need
We must take care of our veterans in Nevada and across America who have fought so hard to protect our freedom. No veteran should ever be homeless. This is why I was proud to support the Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, which awarded $1,200,000 to Southern Nevada organizations in 2011 to help very low-income veterans and their families find permanent housing. I was also proud to announce that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded more than $1.7 million dollars to help homeless veterans in Nevada in 2010. In 2011, as part of the Veterans Affairs Support Housing (HUD-VASH) program, the City of Reno Housing Authority received $316,620 and the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Agency received $1,448,136 to provide vouchers for rental assistance to homeless veterans. Additionally, $1.2 million in grant funding was awarded to two Las Vegas organizations, United States Veterans Initiative (U.S. Vets) and Las Vegas-Clark County Urban League, to provide supportive services for very low-income veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing. In 2012, the City of Reno Housing Authority received $348,330 and the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Agency received $670,000 to provide permanent housing for Nevada veterans through the HUD-VASH program.
I have also worked hard to provide federal funding for job training programs for Nevada’s veterans. Through the Veterans Business and Workforce Development Program, I helped secure $250,000 to address the employment and training needs of eligible veterans in the Silver State. This initiative provides veterans, service-disabled veterans, and military personnel with specialized training and guidance on growing or starting a business, and assists Nevada’s veteran-owned businesses to become more competitive in government contracting and overall business operations. In 2010, I also helped U.S. Vets secure a $170,000 grant through the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. This program provides job training to help reintegrate homeless veterans into the civilian labor force.
New Las Vegas Veterans’ Hospital
I am pleased to report that construction on the new Las Vegas Veterans Hospital and Community Living Center has continued and is on track for the scheduled opening in August 2012. Since 2005, I have secured more than $600 million for this project. When all phases are complete, the new VA Southern Nevada Health Care System Medical Center will consist of 90 inpatient beds, a 120 bed Nursing Home Care Unit, an Ambulatory Care Center, administrative and support functions, and space for Veterans Benefits Administration offices. Furthermore, I will continue to work with the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada to provide transportation services to and from the hospital to ensure access to this world-class facility.
On May 28, 2010, I met with Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder's father and members of the VFW, American Legion, and Military Officers Association of America. After Snyder was killed in Iraq in 2006, members of a Kansas church marred his funeral with ugly, hateful protests. I filed a Supreme Court amicus brief supporting Snyder's family, because I believe that America owes the men and women of the Armed Forces a solemn memorial when they sacrifice their lives to protect America.
Standing Up for America's Fallen Heroes
In 2006, members of an extremist Kansas church interrupted the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, who was killed serving our nation in Iraq, with ugly and hateful protests. I supported the Senate's successful effort to pass the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act, which prohibits such demonstrations on or near the grounds of military cemeteries. In May of 2010, I led 57 of my colleagues in filing an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court to support Lance Corporal Snyder's family. The Snyder family won a judgment against the protestors in a lower court, but this decision was overturned at the appellate level. While the Supreme Court upheld the appellate level decision, I continue to strongly believe that America owes the men and women of the Armed Forces and their families the right to a solemn memorial when they sacrifice their lives to protect America.
To learn more about the amicus brief and to read my letter about its filing, please click here.
Support For Wounded Warriors
In 2009, I was proud to lead passage of the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. This sweeping legislation provides unprecedented levels of support for caregivers of seriously injured veterans, veterans in rural areas, women veterans, and homeless veterans. This legislation fulfills the VA’s obligation to the nation’s wounded veterans by providing their caregivers with training, counseling, support, and a living stipend; expands services in rural areas; ensures that veterans who are catastrophically disabled or who need emergency care in the community are not inappropriately charged for those services; and improves veterans’ access to mental health care.
Supporting Our Mobilized Guardsmen and Reservists
Many members of the National Guard and Reserves incur a loss of income when they are mobilized. Deployments are demanding enough on service members and their families without the added stress of being placed in financial hardship. This is why I introduced the Voluntary Support for Reservists and National Guard Members Act, which helps offset a loss of income as a result of involuntary deployments through the Reserve Income Replacement Program (RIRP).
This bill would allow Americans to designate all or a portion of their income tax refunds to the Reserve Income Replacement Program. The program is an entitlement that must be paid to all eligible service members when they incur a loss in monthly compensation as a result of a mobilization. The funds that volunteers donate will be transferred from the Treasury Department to this program, which was developed specifically to provide payments to eligible members of the National Guard and Reserve who are involuntarily serving on active-duty and who are experiencing a monthly active-duty income differential of more than $50. In 2010, the IRS issued 122 million refunds that totaled $358 billion with an average refund of $3,048. Even a small percentage of this amount could make a significant difference in the lives of these reservist and National Guard families.
I have worked tirelessly to protect and improve TRICARE beneficiaries’ access to care while keeping payments low. For example, I worked to mandate that the future growth rate for TRICARE enrollment fees not exceed the military retirement cost-of-living adjustment. In addition, the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act rejected dramatic increases in TRICARE enrollment fees and restored an estimated savings of $452 million in TRICARE reductions proposed in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. I also fought to cap future increases for pharmacy co-pays to the annual cost-of-living adjustment. Furthermore, I helped pass legislation extending current TRICARE physician reimbursement rates, allowing VA doctors to continue to see new patients, conduct outreach to rural areas, and allow them to make needed improvements to their practices in order to continue giving the best care possible. Please be assured that I will continue fighting to preserve the unique role of TRICARE in our nation’s healthcare system.
Veterans Benefits Claim Processing
I supported a number of provisions in the Recovery Act that will directly benefit our veterans. Given the difficulty many veterans encounter when filing disability claims at the VA, I was pleased that this legislation included funding for additional claims processing staff and support, which will help get benefits out sooner and more accurately. More than $5 million of this funding went directly to the Reno VA Hospital to improve the quality of care for Northern Nevada veterans.
Due to space inadequacies, the residents of the Boulder City Veterans Home are currently eating their meals in eight separate locations. This decentralized distribution of both staff and residents has created a safety concern at meal times. As a result, I have called on the Veterans Administration to ensure that the home would receive a VA state home construction grant to establish a central dining facility. In addition, I have been working to provide the federal funding necessary to build a new veterans home in Northern Nevada.