Veterans and Military Affairs

As the home of Fort Knox, veterans and military affairs issues are close to the hearts of many residents of the Second District. Over my years in Congress, I have fought to deliver premium benefits to those who so bravely served our country. The federal budget for veterans programs and services has risen from $48 billion in 2001 to $75 billion in 2006, an unprecedented $27 billion dollar increase over a four-year period. At the same time, veterans medical care funding has risen from $19.3 billion in the FY 2001 budget to roughly $38 billion in the FY 2007 budget. All told, the Department of Veterans Affairs budget has increased by 94% over the last decade.

I was glad to work with my colleagues recently to pass the Defense Authorization Act of 2007, providing a 2.6% pay raise for members of the military, $390 million for the production of body and vehicle armor components, and a complete block on all proposed TRICARE fee increases. I was also able to incorporate a measure to address a situation known as “No Pay Due.” My provision amends current law so that no more than 20% of a service members’ paycheck can be withheld at one time to recover overpayments resulting from pay system errors.

I was an active participant in congressional efforts to pass legislation in 2004 authorizing $22 billion to provide full concurrent retirement and disability payments to over 250,000 disabled retirees. I have since cosponsored legislation to eliminate the phase-in period and expand eligibility for service-connected disabled veterans. I have also supported legislation to repeal the social security offset on veteran survivor benefits and the repeal of the dependent and indemnity compensation offset from surviving spouse annuities.

I have also worked to increase veterans’ services that promote continuing education, employment and homeownership. GI bill benefits have increased 59% since 2001, giving millions of veterans more options to pursue higher education and participate in a wide range of job training programs. Congress has also increased the maximum VA home loan guarantee to $417,000, giving more veterans the opportunity to own their own homes.

I am also glad to report that the VA healthcare system has now fully converted to electronic patient records, and serves as a guide for advancement and reform in healthcare around the country.

Last year, I appointed a Veterans Advisory Council to assist me in meeting the needs and solving the problems that veterans face daily. Their guidance, along with the advice of many other veterans residing in the Second District, is critically important to me as I work to best represent their needs in Congress.

Other legislation supported:

• Supports Congressional efforts to preserve National Guard and Reserve Force Strength (Letter to Bush 2/7/06)
• Supports legislation to honor the lives and service of our Veterans, including the Stolen Valor Act (HR 3352) and the Honor Our Fallen POWs Act (HR2369).
• Supports efforts to preserve funding and accessibility for veterans health care, including legislation to allow retirees to pay health insurance premiums on a pre-tax basis (HR 994) and Keep our Promise to America’s Military Retirees Act of 2005 (HR 602), which would restore the option of cost-free health care coverage to all military retirees and their spouses, widows, and children.
• Supports Kentucky’s National Guard Youth Challenge Program (HR 669) to encourage civilian youth to consider the military.