President Joe Biden signed four veterans reform bills into law on Tuesday, calling the changes part of the country’s “sacred obligation” to care for military members and their families even after their service.
“We prepare those we send into harm’s way, and care for their families when they’re gone, and care for them and their families when they’re home,” Biden said. “That’s a lifetime commitment the nation owes to every one of our veterans.”
None of the measures were controversial, and all passed out of Congress by wide bipartisan margins. But the grouping of bills allowed Biden an opportunity to highlight veterans one last time in November, just a few weeks after the nation celebrated the annual Veterans Day holiday.
The president was joined for the event by Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., committee ranking member Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., and a host of other lawmakers and veterans advocates.
The short ceremony also gave Biden a chance to again publicly reflect on his own role as the father of a service member. Beau Biden, the president’s late son, served in Iraq with the Delaware National Guard.
“It is personal,” Biden told the crowd. “It’s a commitment [to care for veterans] that we are helping to keep today because of the leadership of the women and men in this room.”
The first bill — the Protecting Moms Who Served Act — invests $15 million in new maternity care coordination programs at VA facilities. The move requires VA officials to address gaps in care for veteran mothers as well as studies into prenatal and postpartum health.
It will also mandate that VA facilities begin offering childbirth preparation classes, parenting classes, nutrition counselling, breastfeeding support and similar services.
The Hire Veteran Health Heroes Act will require VA leaders to work with Defense Department officials in helping separating troops with health care skills who apply for open medical jobs in veterans hospitals.
The Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act will guarantee that children and spouses of veterans who die from service-connected injuries will get in-state tuition rates. The change is expected to affect about 150,000 surviving dependents, potentially saving them tens of thousands in higher education expenses each year.
The final measure will require the Government Accountability office to investigate potential disparities in VA benefit awards based on race and ethnicity. Past studies have indicated that minorities may receive lesser benefits or face additional obstacles to disability payouts than their white peers.
The veteran-specific bill signing event may not be the final one for Biden this year. Lawmakers are expected to try and advance a series of veterans measures in the final weeks of session next month.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.