I had the distinct honor recently to participate in a ceremony marking the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War in Washington, Mo., and it reminded me of the importance of honoring those who have served in defense of our nation. Many historians have referred to the Korean War as the "forgotten war," which makes my blood boil because I strongly believe that no sacrifice in defense of our nation should ever be forgotten. And that includes the sacrifices made by military families as well.
One of the issues that keep my staff busy involves the waiting time for the processing of disability claims at the Veterans Administration (VA). The VA, as you all know, is a large bureaucracy in which our veterans often get lost and that is why Congress must ensure that the VA has the resources it needs to function properly.
While the House passed the Ryan Budget earlier this year to give us a path to balance the budget in 10 years, we acknowledged that some areas of the government need more resources, while many others need to be cut. Taking care of our veterans is one of the areas that deserve more resources. In this year's Military Construction and Veterans Affairs House appropriation's bill, we increased funding for the VA by $2.1 billion over last year's enacted level. This includes ample funding for the paperless claims process system and the digital scanning of health records, two functions designed to help eliminate the backlog of claims. In addition, the bill calls for rigorous reporting requirements to track the efficiency of each regional office on claims processing.
While this bill was a step in the right direction for our veterans, there are three other bills I am co-sponsoring that also address the concerns of our veterans, veterans' families and those who have served in the National Guard.
I am pleased to have co-sponsored H.R. 32, the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act. Under current law, surviving spouses of service members killed in the line of duty or who later pass due to a service-connected cause lose the Survivor Benefit Pension annuity, removing up to $1000 per month from the spouses' pay known as the "Widow Tax." This bill ends this unfair burden, allowing widow/widowers and/or dependents to receive full benefits.
I also am backing H.R. 1620, the Military Spouse Job Continuity Act, that would help military spouses more easily re-enter the workforce by offering a tax credit to any military spouse who has to renew or transfer a professional license due to a military Change of Station order.
And finally, I have co-sponsored H.R. 690, the Reserve Retirement Deployment Credit Correction Act, which takes a little more explanation. Under current law, veterans of active duty service receive benefits immediately upon retirement, while members of the National Guard are unable to receive retirement benefits until they reach 60 years of age. With more and more reservists and guardsmen serving on active duty for longer periods of time, a law was passed to allow reservists and guardsmen that served on active duty for 90 days in a year to receive retirement benefits three months early. However, the law didn't take into account that certain reservists and guardsmen may have been activated for a 90 day period that overlapped two different fiscal years. H.R. 690 corrects that error so that they are treated the same as other guardsmen and reservists who were activated for 90 days in a single year.
There are many issues I deal with on a daily basis while in Washington but I am always attentive to the well-being of our current fighting forces, our veterans and the many military families who have given so much to support their loved ones. It is attention they certainly have earned.
U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., represents the state's 3rd District, which includes Jefferson City. His local office can be reached at 573-635-7232.