(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today cosponsored a bipartisan bill ensuring family members of veterans who passed away due to the coronavirus 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).
“The death toll of COVID is devastating, as is the serious impact it has had on our more vulnerable communities, including our veterans. New Hampshire families mourning the loss of their loved ones deserve the space to grieve without the stress of not receiving promised benefits, especially during these difficult financial times,” said Senator Shaheen. “Congress must act during this unprecedented crisis to investigate the connection between service-related disabilities and COVID-19 deaths to ensure the VA appropriately cares for surviving family members. We must uphold our promise to veterans and their families that they’ll receive the benefits they deserve.”
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.
Senator Shaheen has worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of Granite State veterans. Last month, 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 veteran. Additionally, Shaheen was a cosponsor of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which was signed into law last June 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 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 recently became law includes 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.