WASHINGTON — The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Wednesday approved a package of bills to improve benefits and health care services for veterans and their families, including the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act.
The Charlie Morgan Act, named for New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who died in February after a long battle with breast cancer, would make additional benefits available to all military spouses and families, regardless of sexual orientation.
According to the committee Chair, Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.), the package of bills would bring the Department of Veterans Affairs in line with a Supreme Court ruling on that stuck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
Other legislation approved by the Committee would improve the delivery of care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual assault in the military, and a bill that would make the Vertans Administration provide detailed reports to Congress on its effort to eliminate a staggering claims backlog.
The legislation cleared by the committee would also:
- Expand eligibility for benefits for spouses married in states that allow gays to wed. The measure would bring the VA into conformance with a June 26 ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down a federal law that unconstitutionally denied federal benefits for all legally married couples.
- Improve the delivery of care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military. The Pentagon in May released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010.
- Improve veterans’ health care through increased access to complementary and alternative medicine, chiropractic care and transportation services.
- Expand access to education benefits for veterans and their survivors, including making recently-separated veterans eligible for tuition at the in-state rate and improving the level of benefits offered to survivors of service members killed on active duty.
The legislation now moves to the Senate floor for a vote and, if passed, a joint conference committee review with the U.S. House.