Despite political fights, Congressional committee passes bill to make homeownership easier for wounded vets

Abbie Bennett
July 11, 2019 - 12:03 pm
Kules

Courtesy of Capt. Ryan Kules

A normally calm, non-partisan House of Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday became contentious over Republican amendments to bills being considered for passage to the House floor. 

Despite those fights, the committee passed the bills to extend a grant program to allow catastrophically wounded veterans to pay for necessary renovations to their homes to accommodate their disabilities and the continuation of a women veteran’s transition program.

Women veterans’ transition training

The first bill directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out the Women’s Health Transition Training pilot program through at least fiscal year 2020. 

Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., offered an amendment to that bill that would have prevented VA from contracting with child care providers charged, but not convicted, of sex offenses. 

What followed was a back-and-forth largely along party lines, full of Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., gaveling down Republicans over parliamentary disagreements. 

Republicans called Takano’s conduct “a miscarriage of parliamentary order” and ranking member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said in his 11 years he had “never seen this happen … I find this astonishing.” 

Democrats maintained the amendment on childcare regulations was not relevant to the underlying bill, but Republicans strongly disagreed.

“It’s distressing we’re not protecting children,” Barr said. “Any veteran is entitled to ensure their child is protected when they go to seek health care at VA. None of us here should be willing to gamble … with a veteran’s child.” 

“The last thing I want is someone charged (with a sex offense) who has not been fully cleared caring for children,” Roe said. “I don’t want to be sitting on this committee two years from now and have a whistleblower tell us that a child has been harmed … and we had an opportunity in this committee and somehow it was controversial.” 

Democrats argued that Congress already passed legislation that prevents the VA from contracting with childcare providers who have been convicted of sex offenses. 

“It makes me wonder what the true motivation of the minority is in bringing this to discussion today,” Takano said, adding that the amendments offered by Republicans could “poison” the bills and put them in danger of not passing on the floor.

The committee ruled the amendment not relevant to the underlying bill and passed the bill on to the House floor without Barr’s amendment. 

Wounded veteran housing grants

The second contentious amendment was to a bill on expanding the Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement program, to provide more grants and more flexibility for veterans to adapt their homes. The bill is named for Army Capt. Ryan Kules, who lost a leg and arm to an IED blast in Iraq and had to pay out of pocket to renovate his second home to accommodate his disabilities because of the program’s limits. 

Congress aims to make home ownership easier for ‘catastrophically’ wounded veterans

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, offered an amendment to block the VA from reporting information on veterans to the National Instant Criminal background check system. 

“Veterans should not fear losing their Second Amendment rights … (the amendment) guarantees that a disability rating from VA will not be used as the sole reason to take away a veteran’s God-given right to a firearm.” 

Democrats argued that the VA does not currently report that information to NIC and said the amendment was not relevant to the Specially Adaptive Housing Improvement Act.

The bill passed the committee and is headed to the House floor without Roy’s amendment, and with an amendment that expanded the grant program to blind veterans.

Also at the hearing, the committee passed a bill that would require VA to provide informational fact sheets in Spanish and in Tagalog, which now moves out of committee to the House floor.

Republicans and Democrats agree: VA must study medical marijuana for veterans.

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