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Vets benefits legislation in danger of expiring

Dec. 21, 2012 - 01:56PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 21, 2012 - 01:56PM  |  
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The fate of two veterans bills that had been on the verge of becoming law depends on whether the House of Representatives returns for a post-Christmas legislative session to work on deficit reduction legislation.

That is far from certain. The House abruptly left town Thursday after the Republican leadership was unable to get enough votes to pass its latest proposal in the tug-of-war with the White House and Senate over economic policy. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Friday that whether the House returns depends on whether President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., can come up with a balanced deficit reduction plan for the House to consider.

If the House doesn't return, pending legislation ó including the two veterans bills passed Dec. 18 by the Senate ó would expire, and would have a chance of becoming law only if reintroduced when the new session of Congress convenes on Jan. 3.

House passage had been planned as part of a routine vote on non-controversial bills, but no vote can happen unless the House is in legislative session.

Both measures include high priorities for veterans and veterans' organizations.

One, HR 4057, helps veterans use their GI Bill education benefits wisely by ensuring they get more information to help them pick a college. It also tries to prevent schools from aggressively recruiting student veterans solely because of their generous benefits, which are paid directly to the schools.

Ryan Gallucci of Veterans of Foreign Wars, the nation's largest organization for combat veterans, said the idea behind the measure is to "ensure student veterans are armed with the information to make sound educational choices."

The bill includes a long list of information about schools and benefits that the Veterans Affairs Department would have to make available to people interested in using their GI Bill benefits. It also bars schools from receiving any VA payments for tuition and fees if they pay recruiters commissions or bonuses for signing up students.

Gallucci said the bill reinforces a presidential executive order issued last year that requires some of the same information, and it also builds on an expansion of transition assistance classes for separating service members that offers more information on how to pick the best college.

"If VA gets it wrong, Congress can call them in and tell them to do it over," he said, noting Congress has used its oversight powers to expand other benefits, such as help for veterans' caregivers and the redesign of transition assistance.

The second bill, S 3202, is a collection of other veterans legislation that would, among other things, establish a registry of veterans exposed to toxic fumes and chemicals from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, set up transition assistance classes off base for veterans and spouses, and make several changes in burial benefits and procedures.

Both measure were supposed to be added to what the House calls its "suspension calendar," a pile of bills that circumvent legislative procedures. Most bills passed in this way are approved by voice vote. If a recorded vote is required, a two-thirds' majority is required for passage.

Unless the House meets in legislative session, there will be no chance to even consider the bills before the measures expire.

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