By: Joseph Clark
Sen. Tommy Tuberville is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to reimburse families of defrauded veterans whose benefits have become tied up in red tape.
Under current law, if a veteran dies during a pending fraud case their families are unable to seek reimbursement from the VA for the misused funds. On Tuesday, Mr. Tuberville, Alabama Republican, plans to introduce legislation that would reissue benefits payments to family members of veterans who have been victims of fraud and who died before their cases were settled.
“We’d like to believe we live in a country where no one would take advantage of our veterans, but sadly it does happen,” Mr. Tuberville, Alabama Republican, said. “What’s worse is if the money that was lost to fraud is never returned. This bill attempts to help right that wrong by ensuring a veteran’s estate can be reimbursed for any funds that were lost to fraud should the veteran pass away before the funds have been reimbursed.”
Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, is co-sponsoring the legislation.
Reps. David Trone, Maryland Democrat, and Tom Emmer, Minnesota Republican, introduced a similar measure in the House in November.
“These folks have sacrificed so much to serve their country honorably, the least we can do is ensure that their families are reimbursed for the benefits after they’ve passed on,” Mr. Trone said.
Mr. Tuberville, whose father died on active duty after serving in World War II, said whether increasing life insurance coverage, expanding post-traumatic stress disorder treatments, or expanding health care options for veterans, no detail is too small to go overlooked by lawmakers.
“We’re always running into small things that add up to big things for veterans,” Mr. Tuberville said in an interview with The Washington Times. “Everything we can do for a veteran is important.”
“We just came out of a 20-year war,” he added. “We’re adding hundreds of thousands of veterans a year to the rolls. It’s going to be something that we’re really going to have to look at very closely as we do legislation for all of these small problems. They’re not all big. But they’re all going to make a difference each year for tens of thousands of veterans”
Mr. Tuberville, who serves on the Senate Armed Services and Veteran Affairs Committees, has championed nearly two dozen bills aimed at improving the lives of service members and veterans, and last month the Senate passed his measure to increase service members’ and veterans’ life insurance coverage by $100,000.
The measure gained the support of several Military Officers Association and Wounded Warrior Project, among other veterans organizations, and Mr. Tuberville said it is an example of a small victory in Congress that will have a big impact on veterans.
“For a veteran, if they have life insurance, it had been raised 15 years,” he said. “It’s small to us in the big scheme of things, but it’s huge for veterans.”
But he said there are countless other issues that need to be tackled by Congress.
And in an increasingly gridlocked Congress, Mr. Tuberville said a bipartisan, commonsense approach of getting incremental help across the finish line is how lawmakers can best serve veterans.
“There’s a lot of things that we should be trying to do, but you have to go through all these small steps to take care of it,” he said. “So this is just another step. When we get this out of the way, then we’ll work on something else.”