WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, on Veterans Day, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) hosted a virtual roundtable to meet with Ohio student veterans. Brown will take the student veterans’ priorities back to Washington, where he sits on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted education for so many student veterans across the country,” said Brown. “Our veterans answered the call to serve, and we have a responsibility to make sure they have everything they need to pursue an education, support their families, and care for their health while we navigate unprecedented public health and economic crises.”
In June, Brown and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced legislation to ensure student veterans do not face financial or academic penalties if they need to withdraw from classes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would give GI Bill beneficiaries additional flexibilities to ensure they do not face bills for overpayments or lose their academic or housing benefits due to unforeseen circumstances during this pandemic that may cause them to withdraw from classes.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Brown has long fought to improve the lives of Ohio veterans. Some of his recent actions include:
· Pushing legislation to improve Department of Veterans Affairs’ debt management practices, provide protections for Ohio veterans:
o In August, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC) passed the Stopping Harm and Implementing Enhanced Lead-time (SHIELD) for Veterans Act of 2020, bipartisan legislation that creates new protections for veterans when they receive an overpayment from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), resulting in veteran or VA beneficiary debt.
o The bill directs VA to improve its debt management practices, systems, and processes.
o Brown was able to secure language in the bill that prevents VA collecting on debt that is being disputed by veterans, and he worked to improve the overpayment notice and debt dispute processes giving veterans and their families more information and transparency.
§ Last year, Brown reintroduced the Veterans Debt Fairness Act alongside Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) to prevent VA from charging veterans for its own accounting mistakes.
§ Annually, VA sends as many as 200,000 overpayment notices totaling thousands of dollars to veterans and their families, sending them into crippling debt and withholding future benefits payments until the debt is paid. These overpayments are often a result of VA’s own accounting errors, but VA puts veterans and their families on the hook for repaying the debt.
o Last year, As part of a spending package, President Trump signed legislation into law that builds on Brown’s earlier work to help reduce overpayment errors by VA, thereby reducing veteran debt to the Department.
· Pushing legislation to expand list of medical conditions for veterans exposed to Agent Orange:
o In July, Brown took to the Senate floor to support and continue to push for a key provision in the defense bill to expand the list of medical conditions associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
§ Brown’s provision would expand VA’s list of conditions to include Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer and Hypothyroidism.
§ Brown vowed to continue fighting to get a fourth condition, Hypertension, added in the future.
o Last year, as part of a spending package, President Trump signed legislation into law that requires VA and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue a report within 30 days outlining any delays in making a determination on adding conditions to the list of service-connected presumptive illnesses.
o Last year, Brown introduced the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which would ensure these veterans are able to receive the healthcare benefits they need and have earned after their exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.
o Brown’s office held more than a dozen roundtables with veterans across Ohio last year.
· Introducing legislation to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits:
o In June, Brown and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced an amendment to the Senate’s FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to help veterans who have been harmed by exposure to toxic burn pits.
§ The amendment is based on the Senators’ bipartisan bill, the SFC Heath Robinson Burn Pit Transparency Act, which is named in honor of Heath Robinson, a central Ohio veteran who passed away in May and was exposed to burn pits while deployed.
o In September, at Brown’s request, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing on toxic exposure. Brown pressed government officials to act on the National Academies report regarding Agent Orange related diseases, share air quality test results with outside experts, and establish a presumptive procedure to address exposure to toxic burn pits and any diseases associated with that exposure that harms veterans.
o Brown has advocated for Ohioans who have been harmed by environmental and other toxic exposures, including toxic burn pits and has introduced legislation, the Burn Pit Accountability Act to help study the effects of burn pits on servicemembers’ health.
Brown is the longest serving U.S. Senator ever from Ohio on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.