Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced a package of legislation to support veterans. Klobuchar introduced four bills aimed at helping veterans get the resources they need, including legislation to help increase job opportunities for veterans by streamlining civilian paramedic training for returning veterans who already have emergency medical experience from their military service; a bill to improve veterans’ medical facilities by giving them the ability to recruit health care professionals and ensure that veterans are receiving the care they deserve; legislation to allow veterans who might otherwise lose their health plans to remain on TRICARE Prime; and a bill to help reduce the disability claims backlog through veterans legal clinics.

“When our men and women in uniform signed up to serve and made a commitment to defend our nation, our country also made a commitment to them to make sure they have the resources and support they deserve when they come home,” said Klobuchar. “While we can never repay the debt we owe to our troops and veterans who have risked their lives for this country, we can honor them with our actions, and this package of legislation is a big step toward doing just that.”

The Veterans to Paramedics Transition Act

The Veterans to Paramedics Transition Act, which Klobuchar introduced with Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), would streamline civilian paramedic training for veterans who already have emergency medical experience from their military service, making it easier for them to secure jobs as paramedics when they return home. The bill would also work to help reduce the shortage of emergency medical personnel in many rural communities.

Rural communities have long faced critical shortages in emergency medical personnel, threatening the safety of rural residents. Meanwhile, thousands of men and women in the military receive emergency medical training as part of their duties. For example, most Army combat medics are currently certified as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) at the basic level. When these veterans return to civilian life, however, their military-based medical training is often not counted toward training and certification as civilian paramedics. Many existing programs require all students to begin with an entry-level curriculum.  For veterans, this means spending extra time and money for training that, in effect, they have already received. Klobuchar’s legislation would authorize federal grants for universities, colleges, technical schools, and State EMS agencies to develop an appropriate curriculum to train these veterans and fast-track their eligibility for paramedic certification. 

This legislation has been endorsed by the American Ambulance Association, the Minnesota Ambulance Association, and the National Rural Health Association.

The Veterans Access to Care Act

The Veterans Access to Care Act, which Klobuchar introduced with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would help improve veterans’ medical facilities by allowing facilities with a need for additional health care professionals to apply to be designated as a Health Professional Shortage Area. Once designated, these facilities have access to National Health Service Corps, which provides service-obligated scholarships and loan forgiveness to health professional students who pledge to practice in a Health Professional Shortage Area for at least two years. The bill would also require the Departments of Health & Human Services and Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a process for veterans’ facilities to qualify as HPSAs.

The Keep the Faith with TRICARE Prime Act

On October 1, 2013 more than 171,000 military retirees, including more than 3,700 Minnesota veterans, will lose access to TRICARE Prime as a result of a new Pentagon policy, forcing them to switch plans. The Keep the Faith with TRICARE Prime Act, which Klobuchar introduced with Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), would allow veterans who would lose their benefits the opportunity to remain on TRICARE Prime if they choose. The bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman John Kline.

Under the Pentagon’s new rules, several Prime Service Areas will be eliminated on October 1, 2013. Beneficiaries who live outside 100 miles of a Prime Service Area will then be forced to switch to TRICARE Standard, which is a fee-for-service option that can cost more and can require veterans to pay more out-of-pocket expenses. The Keep the Faith with TRICARE Prime Act will lessen the impact on those veterans who live outside the 100 mile restriction by allowing a one-time election to continue such enrollment in TRICARE Prime so long as the beneficiary resides in the same ZIP code as he or she did at the time of election of benefits.

The Veterans Legal Support Act of 2013

The Veterans Legal Support Act of 2013, which Klobuchar introduced with Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), would help reduce the disability claims backlog through veterans legal clinics. It would increase cooperation between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and law school clinics designed to assist veterans in order to maximize the effectiveness of legal clinics that already provide legal services to veterans. By assisting veterans with are what often complicated benefit claims, the legal clinics will help turn complex disability claims into organized applications are that significantly easier for the VA to process. The result would be a shortened processing time and a reduction in what has become a growing disability claims backlog at the VA.  At the legal clinics, law school student volunteers would provide pro-bono services to veterans under the supervision of licensed attorneys.  

More than 600,000 veterans are still stuck in the VA’s disability claims backlog. The average wait time for first time disability claims currently stands at between 316 and 327 days.