Veteran’s Corner: Coronavirus economic relief package allocates $17 billion in support of the VA’s COVID-19 response

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    By Raymond Taylor
    Archuleta County Veterans Service Office

    The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law March 11 by President Joseph R. Biden Jr., equips the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure veterans have continued access to quality health care and protections against COVID-19, as well as providing needed economic relief. 

    The $1.9 trillion coronavirus economic relief package for Americans allocates $17 billion in support of the VA’s nationwide response to the pandemic. 

    “Like other hardworking Americans, veterans have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “Countless veterans have lost jobs, closed businesses, home-schooled children and faced uncertain prospects while our nation grapples with this health crisis. The American Rescue Plan is a significant piece of legislation that helps VA deliver on the president’s promise of caring for the men and women who served our great nation, especially during this unanticipated and challenging time.” 

    Outlined for the VA in the American Rescue Plan: 

    • $14.5 billion for COVID-19-related health care, including information technology and facility requirements, ensuring access for 9.2 million enrolled veterans who may have delayed care or have more complex health care needs as a result of the pandemic, as well as resources for veterans currently receiving housing support and an estimated 37,000 homeless veterans. 

    • $1 billion for debt forgiveness related to copayments or other cost sharing veterans paid for VA health care and to reimburse veterans who paid a copay or other cost sharing, for care and prescriptions provided from April 6, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2021. 

    • $750 million for both construction grants ($500 million) and payments ($250 million) to state homes to greatly improve the living conditions of our most vulnerable veterans who reside in these facilities. 

    • $386 million to initiate a COVID-19 Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program that provides up to 12 months of training and employment assistance for unemployed veterans to enter high-demand occupations. 

    • $262 million to reduce the backlog of compensation and pension claims, which has grown from 76,000 in March 2020 to more than 212,000 in March 2021. The ARP funding will enable the Veterans Benefits Administration to reduce the claims backlog to around 100,000 by September 2022. 

    • $100 million to facilitate the modernization of the VA’s badly antiquated supply chain system by accelerating the department’s transition to the Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support. 

    • $80 million to establish the Department of Veterans Affairs Employee Leave Fund, which provides funds for paid leave for COVID-19-related causes. 

    • $10 million to decrease the Board of Veterans’ Appeals hearing requests (currently 87,499) and intake (35,000 appeals) backlogs. These efforts help veterans economically by resolving their VA appeals and allowing them to begin receiving compensation and services. 

    Additional American Rescue Plan support: 

    • Veterans experiencing unemployment and other financial hardships may also qualify for further assistance in the form of extension of unemployment insurance benefits and eligibility, stimulus checks, or expansion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. 

    • Veterans with children could benefit from additional stimulus payments, an increased child tax credit and expanded child care tax credits. 

    • Veterans are prioritized for the $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Grants in the Small Business Administration’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund. During the initial 21-day period in which the Small Business Administration (SBA) awards grants under this program, the SBA will prioritize awarding grants to eligible entities that are owned and controlled by veterans. 

    • It helps small businesses in economically disadvantaged areas keep frontline state and local public workers on the job and paid, and helps public transit agencies avoid layoffs and service reductions.

    • It assists communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, many of which are veterans living in diverse communities across the country. Women and racial/ethnic minorities are becoming the fastest-growing populations of veterans, as the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding economic crisis have hit communities of color and women particularly hard. 

    • It provides emergency funding for community investments to ease challenges experienced by many American Indian/Alaska Native veterans and their families and provides much-needed relief to embark on the long road to healing in the aftermath of tremendous losses during the pandemic.

    • It closes what is known as the “90/10 loophole” to protect the integrity of the GI Bill and veterans in receipt of their well-earned educational benefits.

    Vets4Vets grant

    Vets4Vets has received a grant from the Colorado Department of Military and Veteran Affairs. This is to support veterans in our community through the following assistance: housing, utilities, mental health counseling, dental services, travel assistance, automobile repairs, gas and food cards, and emergency veteran assistance. 

    Contact Vets4Vets at 799-VETS or www.Vets4VetsPSCO.org.

    Contact information

    Veterans: Thank you for your service. Welcome home.

    For further information on VA benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office (VSO), located at the Pagosa Springs Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard.

    The office: 264-4013, fax number: 264-4014, and email is raytaylor@archuletacounty.org. Bring your DD Form 214 (discharge) for applications to VA programs or benefits for which the veteran may be entitled to enroll, and for filing in the Archuleta County VSO. Always leave a message and phone number to contact you.

    The following veterans groups meet in Pagosa Springs:

    • American Legion Post 108: second Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

    • Veterans for Veterans: every Tuesday at 10 a.m., Tennyson Building Event Center, 197 Navajo Trail Drive. Breakfast meeting on the first Tuesday of the month at 9 a.m. Contact 799-8387 for more details.

    • Combat Veterans PTSD Group: every other Tuesday at noon, Community United Methodist Church, Lewis Street. Contact Gary Hanneman at 946-2540.

    • Women’s Group of Spouses of Veterans: first and third Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m., Dr. Carter’s office; contact Charlotte at 903-9690.

    Important information

    • 799-VETS, www.Vets4VetsPSCO.org.

    • Durango VA Outpatient Clinic: 247-2214.

    • Farmington VA Center: (505) 326-4383.

    • VAMC Albuquerque, N.M.: (800) 465-8262.

    • VA Health Care Emergency Notification: (844) 724-7842.

    The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support to veterans in crisis, as well as their family and friends 24/7/365. Call (800) 273-8255, chat online or text 838255.