Sen. Brown Introduces Bill to Address Access to Services and Benefits for Veterans in Appalachia

Rep. Ryan Introduces Companion Legislation in the House Aimed at Ensuring Access to Services and Benefits in Ohio’s Rural Areas

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) reintroduced legislation today that would expand access to services and benefits for veterans living in Appalachia. The Veterans Outreach Enhancement Act would authorize a cooperative agreement between the Secretary of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) and Federally Chartered Regional Commissions like the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-17) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Veterans in Appalachia deserve the same level of services and benefits received by veterans in Cleveland, Columbus, or Cincinnati," Brown said. "But veterans in Appalachia face unique challenges - from geographic isolation to misallocation and distribution of resources - too many Appalachian veterans struggle with the VA. It is vital that the VA utilize the ARC's unique knowledge of the region so all of Ohio's veterans receive services and benefits they have earned."

“It is important for the government to make the extra effort to reach out to our veterans and provide them with the necessary services and benefits they truly deserve,” said Ryan. “It not only helps our veterans, but it also improves the economy by bringing government investments to distressed areas. I am proud to sponsor this legislation in the House of Representatives, and will continue to work hard to ensure that we reach all of our veterans no matter where they live.”

There are more than 179,000 veterans in Appalachia's 32 counties who received more than $309 million in VA Benefits in 2009. Sen. Brown and Rep. Ryan are working to inform veterans about all the benefits for which they are eligible. This bill would require the VA to carry out a program of outreach to veterans in economically distressed locations. The program would be required to increase veterans’ awareness of, access to, and use of benefits and services for which they are eligible. The Federally Chartered Regional commissions would be authorized to provide technical assistance, awards grants, or enter into contracts with individuals or entities in their respective region for these purposes. 

While the VA has significant latitude in conducting outreach, this provision would complement existing authority by including the development commissions, and place a special emphasis on collaboration.   These types of commissions have unique impact in terms of enhancing communication, transportation, access to health care, and other elements of regional development.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is a regional economic development agency that represents a partnership of federal, state, and local government. Linking the VA with the ARC would help the VA adapt its outreach efforts to consider the unique challenges of the region. Brown's legislation would provide outreach and other technical assistance to Veterans in Appalachia. This joint effort would ensure that veterans are aware of all the VA benefits for which they are eligible, along with other services and credits, from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), to Small Business Association (SBA) loans, to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

In May 2010, Brown held a field hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs in Cambridge to examine access to services and benefits for veterans living in the Appalachian region. He heard from veterans living throughout southeast Ohio who discussed job retraining, education, and disability compensation. Brown also visited the Chillicothe VA Medical Center in April 2010 where he met with VA leadership, union representatives, and veterans to examine veterans' issues, including veteran homelessness and benefit reforms. Brown also toured the Special Care Unit at the facility.

Brown previously held a hearing in New Philadelphia in 2007 that explored medical issues facing Veterans in Appalachia. Following this hearing, Sen. Brown introduced the Veterans Emergency Care Fairness Act of 2007 to require the VA to reimburse private hospitals for emergency care before a veteran is transferred to a VA medical facility.

Brown, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, is the author of several legislative initiatives that would strengthen our nation's commitment to veterans by improving education reimbursements and expanding employment protection for former service members. Brown has held more than 140 community events since being sworn into office in 2007 - holding at least one roundtable discussion with community leaders in each of Ohio's 88 counties. Many of Brown's legislative priorities, including his jobs initiatives, originated from these discussions.

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