Greetings from Washington again. Congress was in session Tuesday through Friday of this week and passed several important bills. Among the most important of these bills is the National Defense Authorization Act. This bill authorizes defense programs for 2004 and provides for the needs of our troops and their families. It also includes one very important provision that allows veterans to simultaneously receive military retirement and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits. This is otherwise known as "concurrent receipt." In the past, veterans' disability compensation was deducted from their monthly retirement pay. Under the bill passed this week, military retirees with at least 50 percent disability will be eligible for both benefits beginning January 1, 2004. This is a significant accomplishment for veterans. The Senate is expected to clear the bill next week. As we approach Veterans Day, I have reviewed our efforts on behalf of veterans, and I think the list is impressive. In the past two years, our accomplishments include:
* Opening 194 community clinics for a total of 676 clinics (87% of the veteran population now lives within 30 minutes of a VA medical facility); * Increasing veteran enrollment in health benefits from 4.8 million to 7.1 million; and * Opening six new national cemetery sites.
These are great advances, but I also recognize that we can never do enough for those who fought for our freedom. I will be speaking at the Tarrant County Bar Association on Veterans Day where I will express my gratitude to all veterans for their enormous commitment and sacrifice. What's on Tap for Next Week? We are continuing to work with the Senate on final passage of funding bills. The House will be in session Wednesday through Friday of next week, and we will return the following week for what could be the final week of session. As always, thanks for your interest and input.
November 7, 2003