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Senator E. Benjamin Nelson, Democrat from Nebraska

Here's what Ben has to say:

On the Bailout of the Economy

18 September 2008:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Drug Free Families Act of 2008 (S. 3361). I appreciate hearing from you on this matter.

As you know, Senator David Vitter introduced S. 3361 in order to implement a drug testing program for applicants and beneficiaries of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides funding to state governments for promoting, among other things, independence from government programs through work, job preparation, and marriage, as well as reduction of the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. While I am not a member of the panel currently charged with reviewing S. 3361, the Senate Finance Committee, rest assured I will keep your views in mind should this bill come before the full Senate for a vote during the remainder of this 110th Congress.

Again, thank you for contacting me. I value very much the input of my fellow Nebraskans, and I look forward to future correspondence.


Sincerely,

Ben Nelson
U.S. Senator 

15 September 2008:

Dear Fred:

Thank you for contacting me regarding voter registration drives at U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) facilities. I appreciated hearing from you on this matter.

As you may know, Senator Dianne Feinstein has introduced a bill on this issue. The Veteran Voting Support Act, S. 3308, would instruct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to permit state governments to designate VA facilities as voter registration agencies. Under such a designation, the facilities would provide information relating to absentee ballot requests and assist in completing absentee ballots. Nonpartisan organizations would also be permitted to provide voter registration information and assistance at VA facilities under the terms of this bill.

Introduced on July 22, this bill is now before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, of which I am a member. Should the bill come before the Committee for consideration, I will certainly keep your thoughts in mind.

Thank you again for writing. I always appreciate hearing from civic-minded Nebraskans such as yourself, and I hope you will not hesitate to contact me again on any issue of importance to you.

Sincerely,

Ben Nelson
U.S. Senator 

6 August 2008:

Dear Fred:

Thank you for contacting me regarding concurrent receipt and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08), H.R. 4986. I appreciate hearing your comments on this issue.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am familiar with the challenges faced by our servicemembers and veterans. And like you, I believe we must offer safety and comfort to those in an often dangerous and uncomfortable profession. This commitment lasts from enlistment through service and retirement, and includes equipment necessary for troops in the field, salaries for those serving, and care and benefits for our veterans. Just as I have consistently supported adequate funding to protect our current servicemembers, I have fought for the most generous benefits for those who previously wore America's uniform.

On December 14, 2007, I voted, together with 89 of my colleagues, to pass H.R. 1585, the first version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY08. However, due to the President's pocket veto of this legislation on December 28, stemming from his dissatisfaction with one unrelated portion of the bill, H.R. 1585 was redrafted into H.R. 4986 to accommodate the President's objection while keeping the rest of the bill intact. The President signed H.R. 4986 on January 28, 2008 (P.L. 110-181). I will now summarize some of this legislation's provisions addressing concurrent receipt for you.

First, as you know, concurrent receipt was designed to permit retired members of the Armed Forces with a service-connected disability to receive both military retired pay by reason of their years of military service, and disability compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. I have been a consistent proponent of this program because it would ensure delivery of our commitment to our veterans.

In recent years, Congress has adopted more inclusive rules regarding concurrent receipt. Though many veterans are still not receiving all the benefits they deserve, I have supported the progress we have made. I am extremely pleased that 100-percent disabled veterans are receiving full concurrent receipt as of 2005. Additionally, in each of the past two National Defense Authorization Acts (FY06 and FY07), I supported, and the Senate passed, language to remove the 10-year phase-in of concurrent receipt for veterans with an Unemployable (IU) rating of 100 percent and instead make it retroactive to December 31, 2004. The final version of the first Act, P.L. 109-163, moved up the date by just five years, making these veterans eligible for concurrent receipt beginning in 2009. You will be pleased to know that Senator Harry Reid introduced an amendment to H.R. 1585 to provide concurrent receipt to veterans with a 100-percent IU rating, retroactively taking effect on December 31, 2004. This amendment was unanimously agreed to in the Senate on September 27, and was retained in the final version of the bill.

Also, in the 110th Congress, I am a co-sponsor of the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2007, S. 439, which would authorize concurrent receipt for any retired members of the uniformed services who have suffered a service-connected disability, and would repeal the phase-in of this concurrent receipt. This bill has been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which I am a member. The Committee has not yet taken up this legislation, but it is my hope that veterans' benefits will receive strong consideration as the Committee's work continues.

Second, as you are aware, combat-related special compensation (CRSC) was created by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY03, which I supported. This compensation was originally available to veterans who had served for 20 years and who had either: (a) a disability rating of 10 percent or more and related to an injury for which they received a Purple Heart; or (b) a disability rating of 60 percent or more because of involvement in combat, dangerous circumstances, "duty simulating war," or certain other situations.

Again with my support, Congress widened access to CRSC in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY04. The 60-percent disability requirement was removed, making more veterans eligible for the compensation. In addition, the FY04 Act also makes veterans of the National Guard and Reserve eligible for CRSC if they have at least 20 years of service creditable for retirement purposes. Previously, former Guard members and Reservists effectively had to have at least 20 years of active duty service to be eligible, which very few did. I am happy to inform you that H.R. 4986 expands CRSC eligibility to include all servicemembers eligible under Chapter 61, as well as most Reserve retirees, effective as of January 1, 2008.

As our nation's servicemembers continue to bravely serve our country at home and overseas, Congress will continue to ensure that these gallant men and women, those who have previously worn America's uniform, and their families, receive the most generous health benefits they deserve.

Thank you again for contacting me with your comments. The legislative process will only work with the input of its citizens, and I hope you will continue sharing your thoughts and ideas.

30 July 2008:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (FY09), S. 3001. I appreciate hearing your comments on the various issues which are important to America's veterans, military personnel, and their families.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am familiar with the challenges faced by our servicemembers and veterans. And like you, I believe we must offer safety and comfort to those in an often dangerous and uncomfortable profession. This commitment lasts from enlistment through service and retirement, and includes equipment necessary for troops in the field, salaries for those serving, and care and benefits for our veterans. Just as I have consistently supported adequate funding to protect our current servicemembers, I have fought for the most generous benefits for those who previously wore America's uniform; and I understand S. 3001 addresses many issues important to you.

I agree, in support of our servicemembers and veterans and their families, it is important to pass the defense authorization legislation, as the Senate has done annually for more than four decades. For FY09, S. 3001 would authorize $542.5 billion in defense spending and an additional $70 billion to continue funding Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. It would also authorize a pay increase for all uniformed service personnel and prevent an increase in TRICARE fees for servicemembers. I agree with your sentiments regarding Survivor Benefit Plan/Disability and Indemnity Compensation, and concurrent receipt. I have advocated for these benefits for our servicemembers and their families in the past; and please rest assured, I will keep your views in mind when Congress takes up this legislation for FY09.

Moreover, in this time of increasing health care costs and tight budgets, we are forced to examine all solutions to ensure that all servicemembers, military retirees, and their families continue receiving quality health care coverage. The President's proposed TRICARE increases, once again, were too high an amount over too little time. I am pleased, therefore, that the Senate version of S. 3001 rejects the President's proposed TRICARE fee increases.

As our nation's servicemembers continue to bravely serve our country at home and overseas, Congress will continue to ensure that these gallant men and women, those who have previously worn America's uniform, and their families, receive the most generous health benefits they deserve.

Thank you again for contacting me with your comments. The legislative process will only work with the input of its citizens, and I hope you will continue sharing your thoughts and ideas.

28 July 2008:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Hubbard Act, S. 2874. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this issue.

Introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein, S. 2874 would not require servicemembers who leave the Armed Forces early under the "sole survivor" policy to repay their enlistment bonus. It also prevents servicemembers from being penalized when they separate from the military, and ensures that the benefits and pay to which they are entitled are consistent with other military personnel who involuntarily separated under honorable conditions. Following its introduction, this bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Armed Services, of which I am a member. As the Committee continues to consider this bill, I will be sure to keep your views in mind.

Thank you again for contacting me. Your comments are important to the legislative process, and I encourage you to continue sharing your thoughts and ideas.

 

24 July 2008:

Thank you for contacting me regarding physician reimbursements under the Medicare program and the potential impact for TRICARE recipients. I appreciate hearing from you on such a critical issue.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, I am familiar with the challenges faced by our servicemembers and veterans. And like you, I believe we must offer safety and comfort to those in an often dangerous and uncomfortable profession. This commitment lasts from enlistment through service and retirement, and includes equipment necessary for troops in the field, salaries for those serving, and care and benefits for our veterans. Just as I have consistently supported adequate funding to protect our current servicemembers, I have fought for the most generous benefits for those who previously wore America's uniform.

As you know, President Bush vetoed the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act, H.R. 6331, after it had received wide, bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives. The core of H.R. 6331 replaces scheduled cuts of 10.6 percent in Medicare physician payments with a 1.1 - percent increase for the next 18 months. I am pleased to report that on July 15, 2008, both chambers of Congress voted overwhelmingly to override this veto, establishing the bill as federal law (P.L. 110-275).

As our nation's servicemembers continue to bravely serve our country at home and overseas, Congress has an obligation to ensure that these gallant men and women, together with America's veterans, receive the most generous health benefits they deserve. Additionally, Congress recognizes it has a duty to adequately care for our military families. I remain committed to finding solutions to preserve the TRICARE health benefit for military retirees, who have rightfully earned this benefit through their selfless service to our nation.

Again, thank you for contacting me. Preserving the health care safety net for our nation's seniors is such an important task, and I very much value the input of my fellow Nebraskans toward this effort. 

10 July 2008:

Dear Fred:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). I am very interested in your views on this important issue.

As you may know, the Senate recently passed H.R. 6304, the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which is legislation to update and extend FISA, by a vote of 69-28, and I voted in favor of this legislation. The President signed the bill into law on July 10.

The debate over revisions to FISA law was extensive and resulted in a bicameral, bipartisan compromise. As a result, the final FISA legislation created a workable program of foreign intelligence surveillance with appropriate oversight and protections of the privacy rights of American citizens. In addition, H.R. 6304 provides a path for civil liability protection for telecommunications companies from litigation claims arising from their assistance to the Administration's warrantless surveillance program. The Senate considered an amendment to strip this provision from the bill; however, it was rejected by a vote of 32-66. I voted against this amendment because I believe the telecommunications providers acted in good faith in complying with a request for needed assistance and relying on the government's assurance that their assistance was legal. This provision applies only to civil claims against private companies, and does not impede any criminal claims or claims against the federal government.

The updated FISA provisions contained in this legislation will expire in 2012. I, together with many of my colleagues, supported this short sunset because it is necessary to continually re‑examine laws which address issues related to our civil liberties and because of the rapidly changing technologies that impact foreign intelligence collection. I will continue to keep your thoughts - as well as your concerns for your safety and privacy - on this legislation in mind as Congress debates those future issues.

Thank you again for contacting me with your comments. A responsive government will only remain responsive with the input of concerned citizens, and I encourage you to continue sharing your views.

30 June 2008:

Dear Fred:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Veterans Emergency Care Fairness Act, S. 2142. I appreciate hearing your views on this legislation.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, I am familiar with the challenges faced by our servicemembers and veterans. Ensuring adequate care and benefits for those who fight for our country has been one of my top priorities in the Senate. The U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA), from its inception, has been charged with providing quality health care to America's veterans. America promised these men and women that the VA would be there for them. I agree wholeheartedly that we should all demonstrate our appreciation and make it easier for our veterans to receive their well-deserved health care. Therefore, I have consistently supported increased funding for the VA and improved benefits for military personnel and veterans, as well as their dependents and survivors.

Introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown, S. 2142 would require the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs to reimburse certain veterans, who do not have a service-connected disability and are enrolled in a VA health care plan, for the cost of emergency treatment received in a non-VA facility. This bill has been placed on the legislative calendar for debate, and I will be sure to keep your views in mind should this legislation come up for a vote.

America's commitment to these brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines does not end on the battlefields. It is also crucial that we fulfill our promises to those who have served so ably in the past. As your Senator, my work will not stop here; I will fight to ensure that those who have selflessly sacrificed to protect our country receive the most generous health care and benefits to which they are entitled.

Thank you again for contacting me with your comments. The legislative process will only work with the input of concerned citizens, and I encourage you to continue communicating your thoughts and ideas.

11 June 2008:

Dear Fred:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, S. 22. I appreciate hearing your thoughts on this legislation.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, I am familiar with the challenges faced by our servicemembers and veterans. And like you, I believe we must offer safety and comfort to those in an often dangerous and uncomfortable profession. This commitment lasts from enlistment through service and retirement, and includes equipment necessary for troops in the field, salaries for those serving, and care and benefits for our veterans. Just as I have consistently supported adequate funding to protect our current servicemembers, I have fought for the most generous benefits for those who previously wore America's uniform.

As you note, one such benefit is the educational assistance long provided to servicemembers under the Montgomery GI Bill. We must ensure that active duty members, along with their Guard and Reservist counterparts, receive the educational benefits they deserve. A number of bills have been introduced during the 110th Congress aiming to improve educational benefits for our servicemembers.

One such bill, S. 22, introduced by Senator Jim Webb, would entitle individuals who served on active duty in the Armed Forces on or after September 11, 2001, to educational assistance under the Montgomery GI Bill. It allows individuals to pursue: (1) programs on less than a half-time basis; (2) apprenticeship or other on-job training; (3) correspondence courses; (4) flight training; (5) tutorial assistance; and (6) licensure and certification tests. This benefit must be utilized within 15 years of a soldier's discharge or release from active duty, allowing for exceptions in certain cases.

As you know, the Senate recently debated, and ultimately passed, the Supplemental Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2008, H.R. 2642. This bill contains $165 billion to continue operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, as well as discretionary spending for domestic priorities. The domestic spending initiatives incorporated into this bill included the provisions of S. 22. This bill awaits further action from the House of Representatives, as its version of H.R. 2642 differs from the Senate measure.

Thank you again for your comments. The legislative process depends upon the input of its citizens, and I encourage you to continue to voice your thoughts.

6 June 2008:

Dear Fred:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act, H.R. 333. I appreciate hearing your views on this legislation.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, I am familiar with the challenges faced by our servicemembers and veterans. Ensuring adequate care and benefits for those who fight for our country has been one of my top priorities in the Senate. The U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA), from its inception, has been charged with providing quality health care to America's veterans. America promised these men and women that the VA would be there for them. I agree wholeheartedly that we should all demonstrate our appreciation and make it easier for our veterans to receive their well-deserved health care. Therefore, I have consistently supported increased funding for the VA and improved benefits for military personnel and veterans, as well as their dependents and survivors.

Introduced by Representative Jim Marshall, H.R. 333 would amend federal military retired pay provisions to: (1) permit veterans with a service-connected disability of less than 50 percent to claim both retired pay and disability compensation; (2) eliminate provisions requiring a phase in between January 1, 2004, and December 31, 2013, of concurrent receipt of retired pay and disability compensation; (3) provide a special reduction rule with respect to the concurrent receipt of retired pay and disability compensation for disability retirees with less than 20 years of service; and (4) extend combat-related special compensation to certain veterans with less than 20 years of service who have a combat-related disability.

Currently, H.R. 333 is being considered by the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and the House Committee on Armed Services. I will certainly keep your views in mind should comparable legislation come before me in the Senate.

Thank you for your comments. The legislative process depends upon the input of its citizens, and I encourage you to continue to voice your thoughts.

7 March 2008:

Dear Fred:

Thank you for contacting me regarding physician reimbursement under the Medicare program. I appreciate hearing from you on such an important matter.

As you know, I support fair and accurate Medicare reimbursements for our nation’s physicians and health care professionals. As such, I share your frustration with the seemingly annual task of averting drastic Medicare reimbursement cuts caused by the current, flawed formula structure; and I remain steadfastly committed to finding an alternative to this system.

In the meantime, I am happy to report passage this past December of the Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP Extension Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-173), which replaced the scheduled 10.1-percent cut to the Medicare physician reimbursement rate in 2008 with a 0.5-percent increase through June 30 of this year. Efforts to resolve this matter upon the June 30 expiration date are underway. We face many health care challenges, and I am keenly aware that undercutting the ability of our nation’s doctors to care for Medicare patients is certainly not the path toward a more affordable and sustainable health care system.

Again, thank you for contacting me. A responsive government will only remain responsive with the input of concerned citizens, and I encourage you to continue sharing your thoughts and ideas.


Sincerely,

Ben Nelson
United States Senator

Click here to Contact Ben!

7 March 2008:

Dear Fred:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08), H.R. 4986. I appreciate hearing your comments on the various issues which are important to America’s veterans, military personnel, and their families.

As a member of the
Senate Armed Services Committee, I am familiar with the challenges faced by our servicemembers and veterans. And like you, I believe we must offer safety and comfort to those in an often dangerous and uncomfortable profession. This commitment lasts from enlistment through service and retirement, and includes equipment necessary for troops in the field, salaries for those serving, and care and benefits for our veterans. Just as I have consistently supported adequate funding to protect our current servicemembers, I have fought for the most generous benefits for those who previously wore America’s uniform. I understand H.R. 4986 addresses many issues important to you, and I would like to share my thoughts in response to the specific matters which you raised.

On December 14, 2007, I voted, together with 89 of my colleagues, to pass H.R. 1585, the first version of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY08. However, due to the President’s pocket veto of this legislation on December 28, stemming from his dissatisfaction with one unrelated portion of the bill, H.R. 1585 was redrafted into H.R. 4986 to accommodate the President’s objection while keeping the rest of the bill intact. The President then signed H.R. 4986 on January 28, 2008 (P.L. 110-181). I will now summarize some of this legislation’s provisions for you.

First, I agree the Survivor Benefit Plan/Disability and Indemnity Compensation (SBP/DIC) offset has unfairly prevented spouses of fallen servicemembers from receiving the two payments to which they are entitled. Therefore, I am proud to say I have consistently voted in favor of legislation which would end this offset and change the date for paid-up SBP. For example, I am a co-sponsor of S. 935, introduced by
Senator Bill Nelson, which aims to end the SBP/DIC offset, as well as accelerate the effective date of the paid-up provision from October 1, 2008, to October 1, 2007, for retirees who reach age 70 and have paid SBP for 30 years. As you may know, Senator Bill Nelson introduced this legislation as an amendment to H.R. 1585 on September 27, 2007; it was agreed to by unanimous consent that same day.

Unfortunately, despite the Senate’s recommendation for full repeal of the SBP/DIC offset, as well as accelerating the effective date of the paid up provision, H.R. 4986 does not include similar language. Instead, the Act would limit the survivor indemnity allowance to survivors of servicemembers who were entitled to retired pay, and would increase the monthly allowance for FY09 to $50 and then by $10 increments every year through FY13.

Second, concurrent receipt was designed to permit retired members of the Armed Forces with a service-connected disability to receive both military retired pay by reason of their years of military service, and disability compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. I have been a consistent proponent of this program because it would ensure delivery of our commitment to our veterans.

In recent years, Congress has adopted more inclusive rules regarding concurrent receipt. Though many veterans are still not receiving all the benefits they deserve, I have supported the progress we have made. I am extremely pleased that 100-percent disabled veterans are receiving full concurrent receipt as of 2005. Additionally, in each of the past two National Defense Authorization Acts (FY06 and FY07), I supported, and the Senate passed, language to remove the 10-year phase-in of concurrent receipt for veterans with an Unemployable (IU) rating of 100 percent and instead make it retroactive to December 31, 2004. The final version of the first Act, P.L. 109-163, moved up the date by just five years, making these veterans eligible for concurrent receipt beginning in 2009. You will be pleased to know that
Senator Harry Reid introduced an amendment to H.R. 1585 to provide concurrent receipt to veterans with a 100-percent IU rating, retroactively taking effect on December 31, 2004. This amendment was unanimously agreed to in the Senate on September 27 and was retained in H.R. 4986.

Also, in the 110th Congress, I am a co-sponsor of the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2007, S. 439, which would authorize concurrent receipt for any retired members of the uniformed services who have suffered a service-connected disability, and would repeal the phase-in of this concurrent receipt. This bill has been referred to the
Senate Armed Services Committee, of which I am a member. The Committee has not yet taken up this legislation, but it is my hope that veteran’s benefits will receive strong consideration as the Committees work continues.

Third, the President’s FY08 budget proposed increasing deductibles and enrollment fees for military retirees under age 65. Pharmaceutical co-pays would also have increased. In this time of increasing health care costs and tight budgets, Congress is forced to examine all solutions, yet still ensure that all servicemembers, military retirees, and their families continue receiving quality health care coverage. However, the President’s proposed increases were too high an amount over too little time. I am pleased; therefore, that H.R. 4986 rejects the President’s proposed TRICARE fee increases.

Fourth,
Senator Blanche Lincoln’s Senate Amendment 2074 would allow members of the National Guard and Reserve who have been called to active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan to use their educational benefits for up to ten years after their service. Currently, these members forfeit their educational benefits as soon as their service ends. This amendment would permit them to gain the same benefits as active duty soldiers, which they duly deserve. The amendment was agreed to by unanimous consent on September 27.

Finally, H.R. 4986 contains a 3.5-percent pay increase for all members of the military, which will take effect as of the beginning of 2008. This pay increase is half a percentage point higher than the Administration’s request. I am pleased to inform you that this military pay increase, as well as the prohibition of TRICARE fee increases and the provisions of S.Amdt. 2074, were all included in the final language of the Act.

As our nation’s servicemembers continue to bravely serve our country at home and overseas, Congress will continue to ensure that these gallant men and women, those who have previously worn America’s uniform, and their families, receive the most generous health benefits they deserve.

Thank you again for contacting me with your comments. The legislative process will only work with the input of its citizens, and I hope you will continue sharing your thoughts and ideas.


Sincerely,

Ben Nelson
United States Senator

 

Click here to Contact Ben!

3 March 2008:
On 31 Dec 07 I developed what I thought was strep throat.  Everyone else had already had it in my house.  Since it was a holiday, I waited until the VA Clinic in Lincoln, NE opened up on 2 Jan 08 at 0800.  They took a throat culture and told me they would have the results in 3 to 4 days?  That was unacceptable to me when my civilian household went to a civilian Emergency Room (with no insurance), got their throats swabbed, got their diagnosis and their medication and were home resting in bed within 2 hours.  I wrote Senator Nelson about my experience and here is what happened:  

a20080303responsebnonstrepandva.jpg

Here is the letter that the VA sent to Senator Nelson:

20080227responsefromvatosenatornelson.jpg

Now...the next time I have, the flu, a sore throat or a rash...I will let you know if the VA can handle it or if it is going to take 3 to 4 days for them to respond.  I sincerely hope that this problem is fixed, not just for me, but for all of my veteran friends.  WFM. 

Click here to Contact Ben!

15 February 2008: 

15 Feb 2008, Ben on a Jumpstart to the Economy

15 February 2007: Senator Nelson on the Healthy Families Act

18 December 2007:

H.R. 1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08):

From: Senator Ben Nelson <senator@bennelson.senate.gov>
To: beatlerockin@yahoo.com
Sent: Tuesday, December 18, 2007 9:18:43 AM
Subject: Response from Senator Ben Nelson

Dear Fred:

Thank you for contacting me regarding H.R. 1585, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08). I appreciate hearing your comments on the various issues which are important to America’s veterans, military personnel, and their families.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I am familiar with the challenges faced by our servicemembers and veterans. And like you, I believe we must offer safety and comfort to those in an often dangerous and uncomfortable profession. This commitment lasts from enlistment through service and retirement, and includes equipment necessary for troops in the field, salaries for those serving, and care and benefits for our veterans. Just as I have consistently supported adequate funding to protect our current servicemembers, I have fought for the most generous benefits for those who previously wore America’s uniform. I understand H.R. 1585 addresses many issues important to you, and I would like to share my thoughts in response to the specific matters which you raised.

On October 1, I voted, together with 91 of my colleagues, to pass H.R. 1585. The differences between H.R. 1585 as first passed by the House of Representatives and then as amended and passed by the Senate went before a conference committee, the part of the legislative process in which these differences are reconciled. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have emerged out of the conference committee with the final version of H.R. 1585, and I will now summarize some of the provisions of this conference report for you.

First, I agree the Survivor Benefit Plan/Disability and Indemnity Compensation (SBP/DIC) offset has unfairly prevented spouses of fallen servicemembers from receiving the two payments to which they are entitled. Therefore, I am proud to say I have consistently voted in favor of legislation which would end this offset and change the date for paid-up SBP. For example, I am a co-sponsor of S. 935, introduced by Senator Bill Nelson, which aims to end the SBP/DIC offset, as well as accelerate the effective date of the “paid-up” provision from October 1, 2008, to October 1, 2007, for retirees who reach age 70 and have paid SBP for 30 years. As you may know, Senator Bill Nelson introduced this legislation as an amendment to H.R. 1585 on September 27, 2007; it was agreed to in the Senate by unanimous consent that same day.

Unfortunately, despite the Senate’s recommendation for full repeal of the SBP/DIC offset, as well as accelerating the effective date of the “paid up” provision, the conference report does not include similar language. The report language would limit the survivor indemnity allowance to survivors of servicemembers who were entitled to retired pay, and would increase the monthly allowance for FY09 to $50 and then by $10 increments every year through FY13.

Second, concurrent receipt was designed to permit retired members of the Armed Forces with a service-connected disability to receive both military retired pay by reason of their years of military service, and disability compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. I have been a consistent proponent of this program because it would ensure delivery of our commitment to our veterans.

In recent years, Congress has adopted more inclusive rules regarding concurrent receipt. Though many veterans are still not receiving all the benefits they deserve, I have supported the progress we have made. I am extremely pleased that 100-percent disabled veterans are receiving full concurrent receipt as of 2005. Additionally, in each of the past two National Defense Authorization Acts (FY06 and FY07), I supported, and the Senate passed, language to remove the 10-year phase-in of concurrent receipt for veterans with an Unemployable (IU) rating of 100 percent and instead make it retroactive to December 31, 2004. The final version of the first Act, P.L. 109-163, moved up the date by just five years, making these veterans eligible for concurrent receipt beginning in 2009. You will be pleased to know that Senator Harry Reid introduced an amendment to H.R. 1585 to provide concurrent receipt to veterans with a 100-percent IU rating, retroactively taking effect on December 31, 2004. This amendment was unanimously agreed to in the Senate on September 27, and was retained in the conference report.

Also, in the 110th Congress, I am a co-sponsor of the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2007, S. 439, which would authorize concurrent receipt for any retired members of the uniformed services who have suffered a service-connected disability, and would repeal the phase-in of this concurrent receipt. This bill has been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which I am a member. The Committee has not yet taken up this legislation, but it is my hope that veterans’ benefits will receive strong consideration as the Committee’s work continues.

Third, as you know, combat-related special compensation (CRSC) was created by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY03, which I supported. This compensation was originally available to veterans who had served for 20 years and who had either: (a) a disability rating of 10 percent or more and related to an injury for which they received a Purple Heart; or (b) a disability rating of 60 percent or more because of involvement in combat, dangerous circumstances, “duty simulating war,” or certain other situations.

Again with my support, Congress widened access to CRSC in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY04. The 60-percent disability requirement was removed, making more veterans eligible for the compensation. In addition, the FY04 Act also makes veterans of the National Guard and Reserves eligible for CRSC if they have at least 20 years of service creditable for retirement purposes. Previously, former Guard members and Reservists effectively had to have at least 20 years of active duty service to be eligible, which very few did. H.R. 1585 would provide an expansion for these Chapter 61 military retirees. I am happy to inform you that the conference report of H.R. 1585 expands CRSC eligibility to include all servicemembers eligible under Chapter 61, and most Reserve retirees, effective on January 1, 2008.

The House and Senate passed the final version of H.R. 1585 on December 12 and 14, respectively. This legislation now awaits the President’s approval. As our nation’s servicemembers continue to bravely serve our country at home and overseas, Congress will continue to ensure that these gallant men and women, those who have previously worn America’s uniform, and their families, receive the most generous health benefits they deserve.

Thank you again for contacting me with your comments. The legislative process will only work with the input of its citizens, and I hope you will continue sharing your thoughts and ideas.


Sincerely,

Ben Nelson
United States Senator

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