Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bill to Help Veterans

Veterans and their families have repeatedly expressed frustration with the cumbersome process they have to go through in order to transfer their military records and benefit information from military to civilian life. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas on May 6th introduced the “Improving Electronic Transition Services Act” (iVETS Act) in the House.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides services and benefits to almost eight million veterans. The Act would encourage DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to create an internet-based portal so that veterans will be able to access their records and benefit information electronically.

The bill would model the web-based portal for veterans after the Defense Knowledge Online systems which all active duty military members use to access their Official Military Personnel File. The problem is that military personnel lose access to the system once they become veterans. With this bill, the service member retiring, being separated or discharged from the military will be able to transfer the Knowledge Online portal account of the service member to the veteran’s portal.

Efforts have been made to try to improve veterans’ access to their military records. The legislation would enable DOD and the VA to assess the feasibility of providing electronic access to information such as healthcare, service information, and benefits records through a platform that is already familiar to new veterans.

The legislation goes beyond current efforts by not only providing electronic access to these records, but also creates forums so that the veterans can talk to other veterans and care provides, a “white paper” directory for veterans to help find each other, a single source communication channel so that the VA will be able to inform veterans about new programs or benefits and includes a single sign-on system for email so it is easier for the VA and veterans to communicate.

The bill (H.R. 5225) was referred to the House Committee on Armed Services and to the Committee on Veterans Affairs.