House approves veterans' health measures in bipartisan vote

The bills will expand care for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Republican-controlled House approved legislation Thursday to boost health care spending for veterans and provide more money to compensate record numbers of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans claiming service-related disabilities as they return home.

The 407-12 vote reflected the traditional bipartisan support for veterans in Congress and efforts by Republicans to exempt veterans' programs from cuts felt by other domestic programs.

Roughly half of the $148 billion measure is for veterans' pensions and disability payments over which lawmakers have little practical control. That includes a 20 percent, $10.5 billion increase for such payments.

RECOMMENDED: Body armor for women: Pentagon is pushed to find something that fits

The Associated Press reported earlier this week that 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now seeking compensation for injuries they say are service-related. About 1.2 million veterans are expected to file for disability claims next year, on top of a backlog of almost 1 million applicants.

The measure also boosts spending for Veterans Administration medical services in 2014 by $2.2 billion, a 5 percent increase that came even as the VA revealed earlier this year that it had overestimated medical care costs by $3 billion for this year and $2 billion for next.

VA medical programs are budgeted more than a year in advance to insulate them from the ups and downs of the budget process.

Pro-labor Republicans joined with Democrats to win 218-198 passage of an amendment by Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., to strip a provision that would have blocked the Pentagon from requiring contractors to sign project labor agreements to secure federal contracts. Such agreements require contractors to negotiate with union officials, recognize union wages and generally abide by collective-bargaining agreements.

The veterans' measure is perhaps the most popular of the 12 annual spending bills that Congress must pass. It had been expected to pass easily despite a White House veto threat that was issued over moves by GOP leaders to break faith with last summer's budget deal by cutting overall funding for agency operating budgets by $19 billion, almost 2 percent.

The veto promise didn't find fault with the funding levels in the veterans' measure itself. Instead, it said the GOP moves on spending would force deep cuts to domestic programs like education, research and health care in subsequent legislation.

Disability claims from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are running much higher than from veterans of prior conflicts. An estimated 21 percent of veterans filed claims after the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, government officials say.

What's more, these new veterans are claiming a greater number of ailments than veterans of prior conflicts like the Vietnam War and World War II.

Many factors are driving the dramatic increase in claims — the weak economy, more troops surviving wounds and more awareness of problems such as concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Disability payments range from $127 a month for a 10 percent disability to $2,769 for a full one.

The measure also funds $10.6 billion in military construction projects.

RECOMMENDED: Body armor for women: Pentagon is pushed to find something that fits

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.