Recent Federal Legislation Affecting Service Members and Veterans
By Dan Griffiths
The Department of Labor Veterans' Employment & Training Service (DOL VETS) program staff who serve veterans as Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists, career coaches, and case managers can benefit from being aware of recent federal legislation passed under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22). Congress enacted legislation in December 2021 that expanded the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) burn pit registry to two additional countries, established a new memorial dedicated to those who served in conflicts since 9/11, and initiated the restart of a program aimed at getting transitioning veterans into teaching positions in classrooms across the country. This NVTI article will provide a brief summary of relevant reforms and policy changes along with their links as a guide for further investigation.
- Military Sexual Assault Reform
- Provisions in this bill will revamp how the military prosecutes cases of sexual assault. Specifically, Congress created prosecutor positions (i.e., the Special Trial Counsel) to handle cases of sexual assault and related crimes, as well as murder, manslaughter, and kidnapping, and ensures that prosecutors are trained, equipped, and qualified to handle sexual assault cases.
- The bill also makes sexual harassment its own offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It requires independent investigations with specified timelines for any complaints of sexual harassment.
- Burn Pit Bills
- The VA’s Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry has been expanded to include pits operated in Egypt and Syria. Veterans are eligible to participate in the registry if they were deployed to various countries in the Middle East after Aug. 2, 1990, or Afghanistan or Djibouti on or after Sept. 11, 2001. Veterans who served in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom, and New Dawn are already eligible. The Registry is an online database for veterans and service members to document their exposures and report health concerns. It also helps medical providers identify and help at-risk service members and veterans.
- The Department of Defense (DoD) Burn Pits Health Provider Training Act requires the DoD to implement mandatory medical training for health care providers on the effects of burn pits.
- Veterans’ Health Care Bills
- The NDAA contains several acts that intend to improve veterans’ access to medical treatment for certain service-related conditions (e.g., mammography and breast cancer screening, prostate cancer treatment and research, and improvement in processing PTSD claims).
- New Global War on Terror Memorial
- Congress authorized a choice location on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the Memorial which will serve as a lasting tribute to the courage and sacrifice of those who served in the nation’s longest conflict.
- Troops to Teachers (TTT)
- Reauthorized under the FY22 NDAA, this program budget is currently being examined by the DoD to determine the level of funding required to rebuild the program infrastructure after being canceled in October 2020. The TTT program helps transitioning service members and veterans become certified and employed as teachers in K-12 public, charter, and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools throughout the U.S., Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands. For participants that meet certain criteria as defined by the legislation, financial assistance may be provided to assist with their transition to the classroom.
- Lifetime Access to National Parks
- Now veterans, Gold Star Families, and active-duty military members will have free access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas, including national parks, wildlife refuges, and forests.
- Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act
- The bill expands travel assistance programs for veterans living in rural areas with transportation services and reimbursement for their travel to VA medical facilities and establishes a pilot program for providing Beneficiary Travel payments to low-income veterans in advance of their medical appointments. This allows veterans living in rural areas to travel as far as necessary to receive healthcare while lessening their financial burden.
- Reform and Update Rural Access to Local (RURAL) Exams Act
- Improves rural veterans’ access to medical disability exams (MDEs) required to obtain disability compensation or pension from the VA by enhancing transparency and revamping delivery of these exams.