December 21, 2023

Ranking Member Takano and Veterans Affairs Democrats' 2023 Wrap Up

Press Contact

Libby Carlson

WASHINGTON DC- This year, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Mark Takano continued his efforts to pass legislation that supports veterans and their families. Last Congress, when Ranking Member Takano was Chairman of the Committee, the Committee passed his bill, the Honoring our PACT Act (P.L. 117-168), which was the largest expansion of veterans benefits in 30 years.  

“Working with the Republican Majority this year has been difficult, from their lack of organization to their attempts to cut funding to crucial veteran programs. House Democrats have made it our mission to fight these Republican initiatives,” said Ranking Member Takano.  

Ranking Member Takano continued, “Republicans are trying to dismantle all the hard work House Democrats accomplished from 2019-2022. While Republicans have spent this year distracted by intraparty fights, it remains my goal to continue passing comprehensive legislation that will improve the lives of all veterans who have served this nation.” 

With House Republicans in charge of an historically ineffective and dysfunctional Congress, it has been difficult to get much legislating done. In 2023, in total, the House has passed 13 veterans bills, including bills to rename Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities. Despite this slow pace, the Committee managed to pass several key pieces of legislation that will help veterans. Four bills from the Committee have become law this year, including two Democratic-led bills, H.R. 1226, the Wounded Warrior Access Act, led by Rep. Pete Aguilar, and H.R. 336, the Korean American VALOR Act, led by Ranking Member Takano.  

The legislative activities of the Republican-controlled Congress stand in contrast to the last Congress. When Democrats were in the majority, and despite the lasting challenges of the pandemic and economic recovery, the House passed 45 veterans bills in 2021, and another 62 veterans bills in 2022. Across these two years 60 veterans bills became law – including the landmark Honoring Our PACT Act

No one believes that all challenges faced by veterans are solved, as more than 250 veteran-related bills have been introduced in 2023. House Democrats have introduced more than half of those bills.   

Inaction by the Republican majority has left many veterans deprived of the benefits and services they require. We have watched this happen first-hand with the unnecessary delay on the HOME Act and the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act. Republicans kept delaying taking these bills to the House floor for a vote, in turn leaving our most vulnerable veterans in limbo for assistance they desperately need. When Republicans finally brought these bills to the floor two weeks ago, they failed to make minor technical changes that were negotiated with the Senate, so we will either have to await amendment by the Senate or some other legislative action before these bills can be sent to President Biden’s desk for signature. 

When Democrats were in the majority, the House passed many bills, and they were bills of substance, such as the PACT Act and the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act. But we know we cannot stop here. Veterans Service Organizations have made it clear that more action is needed, like on the Elizabeth Dole Home Care Act, to ensure our disabled and aging veterans are getting the care they deserve. And with the HOME Act, helping to make sure our homeless veterans are not left behind. While President Biden has taken unprecedented steps to ease student loan debt, student veterans are eagerly awaiting a floor vote on the Student Veteran Benefit Restoration Act, so that their GI Bill benefits can be restored when they are lost to fraudulent institutions. 

House Democrats also have continued our robust oversight efforts. Monitoring PACT Act implementation was crucial this year. There were key deadlines for back-dated benefits in August and the open enrollment period for VA healthcare ended in September. House Democrats remained diligent in ensuring our communities were aware of these benefit deadlines. From hosting town halls to remind veterans about the PACT Act, to flooding social media providing links to resources, updates, and important filing dates, we drove so much traffic to VA’s website that it crashed. The PACT Act webpage received over 22 million views since launching in August 2022, and we know House Democrats played a huge role in this. VA has seen over 215,000 new healthcare enrollees since the bill was signed into law in August 2022, nearly 5 million completed toxic-exposure screenings, and over 600,000 total PACT Act benefits claims have been approved. We are seeing veterans finally getting the care and benefits they have earned after being exposed to burn pits and other toxic substances. Committee Democrats also stood up to the Republicans who were attempting to take away mandatory funding for the Toxic Exposure Fund (TEF), which is used to provide PACT Act-related care and benefits. Had the Republicans succeeded, it would have left veterans once again fighting other veterans over limited resources for vital care and benefits.   

Ranking Member Takano and House Democrats also protected ground that was gained over the last four years to make sure VA is serving veterans well and providing them with high-quality benefits and healthcare. We protected against efforts to gut the VA workforce and privatize VA healthcare. We stood up to efforts to erode women veterans’ access to reproductive healthcare. We also made sure that Ranking Member Takano’s COMPACT Act, which was signed into law in 2020, was correctly implemented starting  in January and throughout the year. This law allows any veteran, regardless of whether they are enrolled in VA healthcare, to seek acute mental healthcare at any VA or non-VA hospital. This care is provided free of charge for the veteran. In just under a year since it was implemented, over 31,000 veterans have taken advantage of this law. If you or someone you know is struggling this holiday season, you can call 988 and press 1 for veteran-specific, immediate assistance.

In addition to making sure laws are implemented correctly, the Committee remains committed to reaching veterans in their communities. Committee Members and staff spent time visiting California, Chicago, Indiana, France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy to hear from veterans, overseeing VA efforts to provide healthcare and benefits, honoring the fallen at cemeteries, visiting current and future healthcare sites, as well as meeting with local organizations that work to address veteran homelessness.

Of special note, in May we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Specially Adapted Housing Grant at the Laurent House near Chicago. This grant has been a lifeline for veterans, helping disabled veterans find comfort and the ability to remain in their homes. This visit was a reminder of what is possible when Congress and veterans work together for the common good. 

As we enter the second year of the 118th Congress, Ranking Member Takano and HVAC Democrats will remain steadfast in protecting and honoring the promise we made to our veterans.  

As was laid out in Ranking Member Takano’s statement of his priorities for the 118th Congress, Committee members will remain diligent in our work to end veteran homelessness and veteran food insecurity, ensure veteran benefits parity, and make sure no veteran is left behind.