In a post-Veterans Day legislative blitz, House lawmakers passed nine veterans policy measures on Tuesday, including a sweeping bill expanding women veterans support services that had been at the heart of a committee controversy last month.
That bill, the Deborah Sampson Act, passed with an overwhelming 399-11 vote and would require more oversight of women’s health care within the Department of Veterans Affairs, establish a new Office of Women’s Health in the agency, and extend coverage of healthcare for newborn children of veterans from seven to 14 days.
The legislation — named for Revolutionary War veteran Deborah Sampson Gannett — has been stalled on Capitol Hill for the last few years, but supporters are hopeful the Senate will take up the latest version before the end of the year. Several controversial provisions, like changing the VA motto to eliminate male-specific language, are not in the draft passed this week.
Still, supporters call the remaining provisions crucial for reforming VA operations and culture.
“By passing this bill in the House with such strong bipartisan support, we are sending the message to America’s women veterans that we see you, and we thank you for your service,” said Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif. and sponsor of the measure.
“Together, we will continue working together to ensure that we are supporting and honoring women veterans and transforming VA so that all of our nation’s veterans receive the benefits and services they have earned and deserve.”
The bill passed out of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee last month without any Republican support after the GOP committee members walked out of a legislative mark-up following a dispute over amendments procedures.
On Tuesday, committee ranking member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said on the House floor he remains frustrated that majority Democrats won’t let a pair of legislative proposals — one on veterans’ child care issues, one on veterans’ gun ownership rights — get full debate in the committee.
But he also said those disputes should not take away from the importance of bill’s improvements to veterans programs.
“It includes provisions that would help all veterans – women and men – who experience military sexual trauma, intimate partner violence, sexual assault, or sexual harassment to get the support and the care that they need,” he said. “I stand here in strong support of the Deborah Sampson Act and all the good that it would do for the millions of women veterans that it would serve.”
The measure includes additional funding for primary care and emergency care clinicians in VA’s Women Veterans Health Care residency programs, a requirement for gender-specific services are at every VA medical facility, a mandate for a new policy to end harassment and sexual assault at all VA locations, and a new assessment on the availability of prosthetics specifically for women veterans.
Senate officials have discussed finalizing some or all of the legislation as part of a large veteran-themed legislative package later this year.
In addition to that bill, the House passed eight others without any opposition, including measures to expand GI Bill eligibility rules, broaden VA remote health care services, and increase oversight of certain VA construction projects. All must be approved by the Senate and signed by the president before becoming law.
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.