Fitzpatrick, Kilmer, Connolly Co-Sponsor Resolution Defending Veterans’ Health Benefits

October 16, 2020 by Reece Nations

LANGHORNE, Pa. — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, D-Pa., Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va., brought forth a bill that would ensure disabled veterans can fully utilize their benefits following disruptions in veterans’ health care due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Back in March 2020, the novel coronavirus pandemic prompted many Veterans Affairs health care facilities to discontinue non-emergency in-person appointments, a release from Fitzpatrick’s office read. 

Consequently, VA facilities are struggling with a backlog of nearly six months of canceled or rescheduled appointments, leaving many disabled veterans at risk of losing their temporary benefits due to previous rules limiting their leave.

“Our veterans put their lives on the line for our country, and many returned home with lasting injuries. They deserve all the help that we can provide them,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement.

“Allowing disabled veterans to take leave for medical treatment would allow them to live happier, healthier lives. These men and women sacrificed so much to defend our freedoms, and I am proud to support them with this bipartisan, common sense legislation.”

Any veteran who enters the program between March 2019 and June 2021 will have their leave extended by 24 months, according to the release.

“Our veterans should receive the benefits they have earned and deserve – even in a pandemic,” Kilmer said in a statement. “That’s why I’m proud to introduce bipartisan legislation to ensure that our nation’s disabled veterans are able to take the leave they’ve earned to get the care they need. I’ll keep working to ensure all of our veterans have access to adequate and affordable care.”

The bill, referred to as the “Disabled Veteran Leave Extension/Restoration Act”, would prolong the period in which disabled veterans can be enrolled in the leave program, according to the release. The legislation would also restore any leave already lost by a disabled veteran who entered the program in March of 2019 or later, extending the program 24 months from the original leave start date.

“The pandemic has presented challenges to all Americans, particularly our veteran community,” Connolly said in a statement. “We need to make sure we provide flexibility to these heroes so they do not lose access to the leave they have earned and are entitled to. I thank Kilmer for his leadership on this issue.”

The resolution was endorsed by the Federal Managers Association, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers and the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, according to Fitpatrick’s release.

The act was introduced by Kilmer in the House of Representatives Oct. 6 and was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, according to congress.gov. The act has yet to be brought up during one of the committee’s hearings.

“The Federal Managers Association is proud that an FMA member conceived the idea that led to the creation of disabled veteran leave for the federal workforce,” FMA National President Craig Carter said in a statement. “Regrettably, COVID-19 has prevented many eligible feds from benefiting from this leave. Kilmer’s legislation would protect and restore this leave to the brave disabled veterans who have earned it but would otherwise lose it due to the pandemic.”

Carter’s statement continued, “We are grateful for Kilmer identifying this issue and introducing this reasonable and fair solution. Protecting disabled veteran leave for the men and women who have dedicated their lives and careers to our country is honorable and commendable. Kilmer is a steadfast advocate for the employees at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and feds across the country. FMA enthusiastically supports this legislation and will work with Kilmer and his office to get this important bill passed and signed into law.” 

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