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Shaheen-Backed Legislation to Support Families of Deceased Veterans Clears Senate

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) issued the following statement after the U.S. Senate unanimously cleared the Ensuring Survivor Benefits During COVID Act last night, which is a bipartisan bill that would ensure family members of veterans who passed away due to COVID-19 receive the dependent benefits they’ve earned. The Ensuring Survivor Benefits During COVID Act was introduced by Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC). 

Currently, veterans who pass away from coronavirus may have their cause of death labeled as “COVID-19” without accounting for service related disabilities that further complicate their coronavirus diagnosis. This bill ensures those disabilities are taken into account so family members have access to benefits they’ve earned.  

“For Granite Staters mourning the loss of veterans who fell victim to COVID-19, they deserve space to heal and process without the added stress of navigating dependent benefits,” said Shaheen. “As we work to help families become whole again through this pandemic, the VA must appropriately care for surviving family members by delivering earned benefits. This is the least Congress can do as we fight through this unprecedented crisis and ensure service-related disabilities are properly compensated.” 

Senator Shaheen has worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of Granite State veterans. Earlier this year, a key bipartisan bill she helped introduce to support veterans was signed into law – the Deborah Sampson Act – which eliminates barriers to care and services that many women veterans face and would help ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can address the needs of women veterans. Additionally, Shaheen was a cosponsor of?the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which was signed into law in 2019, and will create a permanent legislative fix to help ensure “Blue Water” Navy veterans get the disability and health care benefits they deserve as a result of exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. In December 2019, Shaheen sent a letter to former VA Secretary Robert Wilkie requesting that the Department explain its delay in addressing the backlog of payment claims to health care providers in the community. The final version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law the same month included a provision Shaheen fought for that eliminates the military “widow’s tax” that prevents as many as 65,000 surviving military spouses nationwide from receiving their full Department of Defense (DOD) and VA survivor benefits. The FY2021 NDAA that became law included an amendment supported by Shaheen that requires the VA to provide benefits for veterans suffering from diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. 

In 2018, Senator Shaheen worked to include a provision in the?VA MISSION Act – which was signed into law – ensuring every veteran in New Hampshire has access to care in the community. This was a top priority for Shaheen as New Hampshire does not have a full-service VA medical facility. Under the previous VA community care program, Senator Shaheen introduced the Veterans Choice Card Prompt Payment Act to expedite payment to providers who serve veterans.