Legislation in the pipeline

Lawmakers are considering changes in virtually every aspect of the veterans-care system.

Congress' single biggest move is a spending bill -- still awaiting final action -- on veterans and military construction. Although details differ, both House and Senate bills call for spending about $4 billion more than the Bush administration requested for VA benefits and medical care.

Bush has threatened to veto other spending bills to make room for the higher spending levels the veterans legislation calls for -- unless lawmakers themselves do the cutting.

The Senate already has passed legislation prompted by shabby conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The "Wounded Warrior Act" would set up a hot line for reporting deficient conditions, improve training of caregivers and step up congressional oversight.

The Senate bill contains some departures from the version that originated in the House, including the addition of a military pay raise. A conference to resolve differences in the two versions has yet to be scheduled.

Other legislation would step up efforts at suicide prevention. The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, named after a 22-year-old Iowa veteran who killed himself in 2005 on return from Iraq, would require screening of all patients at VA centers for suicide potential, and monitoring of those at risk. The bill has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

Other proposed legislation would:

  • Protect veterans who interrupted their educations to serve in the armed forces. Among other things, schools would be required to refund unused tuition and to guarantee re-entry to returning veterans.
  • Authorize $48 million for programs to improve the quality of life for veterans who are too impaired to manage daily life on their own.
  • Restore VA health care to so-called Priority 8 veterans, whose relatively high incomes and lack of service-connected disabilities led the VA to cut them off from care in 2003.