Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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House agreed to Senate amendment with amendment (10/10/1998)

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Title I: Provisions Relating to Veterans of Persian Gulf War

and Future Conflicts

Title II: Education and Employment

Subtitle A: Education Matters

Subtitle B: Uniformed Services Employment and

Reemployment Rights Act Amendments

Title III: Compensation, Pension, and Insurance

Title IV: Memorial Affairs

Title V: Court of Veterans Appeals

Subtitle A: Administrative Provisions Relating to the

Court

Subtitle B: Renaming of Court

Title VI: Housing

Title VII: Construction and Facilities Matters

Title VIII: Health Professionals Educational Assistance

Title IX: Miscellaneous Medical Care and Medical

Administration Provisions

Title X: Other Matters

Title XI: Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment

Veterans Programs Enhancement Act of 1998 - Title I: Provisions Relating to Veterans of Persian Gulf War and Future Conflicts - Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to enter into an agreement with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) or another appropriate nonprofit scientific organization to conduct a comprehensive review and evaluation of available scientific and medical information regarding the health status of Persian Gulf War veterans and the health consequences of exposure to risk factors during service in the Persian Gulf War. Directs NAS to identify: (1) the agents, hazards, or medicines to which Gulf War veterans may have been exposed; (2) the illnesses associated with such agents, hazards, or medicines; and (3) the illnesses for which there is scientific evidence of a higher prevalence among Gulf War veterans. Requires NAS: (1) in making such identification, to consider certain pesticides, nerve agents, repellents, compounds, radiation, particulates, endemic diseases, and vaccines; (2) to submit to the congressional veterans' committees a report identifying all agents, hazards, or medicines considered; (3) after such identification, to determine whether an association exists between exposure to such agent, hazard, or medicine and the illness; (4) to make recommendations for additional studies and perform subsequent reviews of available evidence and data; and (5) to make periodic reports to the Secretary and the veterans' committees. Directs the Secretary to review each report and report to the veterans' committees on the available scientific and medical information regarding the health consequences of Persian Gulf War service and of exposure to the above risk factors during such service. Terminates this section 11 years after the last day of the fiscal year in which NAS enters into the agreement.

(Sec. 102) Entitles a veteran who serves on active duty in a theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War, or in combat against a hostile force after the date of enactment of this Act, to veterans' hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care for any illness, notwithstanding that there is insufficient medical evidence to conclude that such condition is attributable to such service. Extends through December 31, 2001, the eligibility of Persian Gulf veterans for such care and services. Makes other veterans eligible for such care and services for two years after their date of discharge from any future qualifying service. Directs the Secretary, with respect to veterans of future qualifying service, to establish a system for collecting and analyzing information on the general health status and health care utilization patterns of veterans receiving such care. Requires a report from the Secretary to: (1) the Congress concerning such care and services; and (2) the veterans' committees on the Secretary's plan for establishing and operating such system.

(Sec. 103) Directs the Secretary to enter into an agreement with NAS or another appropriate organization to assist in developing a plan for the establishment of a national center for the study of war-related illnesses and post-deployment health issues. Requires recommendations and related reports.

(Sec. 104) Amends the Persian Gulf War Veterans' Health Status Act to direct Federal departments or agencies designated by the President to establish advisory committees on proposed research studies, plans, or strategies relating to the health consequences of military service in the Persian Gulf theater of operations. Requires: (1) related reports; (2) the public availability of all research findings; and (3) appropriate notification to Persian Gulf War veterans of the health risks resulting from such service and available services and benefits.

(Sec. 105) Directs the Secretary to contract with NAS for the review of a methodology which could be used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (Department) to determine the efficacy of treatments furnished to, and health outcomes of, Persian Gulf War veterans who have been treated for illnesses which may be associated with their service. Requires an implementation report from the Secretary to the veterans' committees.

(Sec. 106) Amends the Persian Gulf War Veterans' Health Status Act to direct the Secretary and the Secretary of Defense to contract with NAS to: (1) develop a curriculum pertaining to the care and treatment of Persian Gulf War veterans who have ill-defined or undiagnosed illnesses for use in the continuing medical education of both general and specialty physicians providing care to such veterans; and (2) periodically review and provide recommendations regarding the research plans and strategies of the respective Departments relating to the health consequences of military service in the Persian Gulf theater of operations during the Persian Gulf War. Requires such Secretaries to provide for the conduct of continuing medical education programs using the curriculum developed.

(Sec. 107) Amends the Persian Gulf War Veterans' Benefits Act to: (1) extend through December 31, 1999, a program evaluating the health status of spouses and children of Persian Gulf War veterans; (2) repeal certain testing and evaluation requirements under such program; (3) authorize (current law requires) the Secretary to contract for appropriate program testing and examinations; (4) require the Secretary, in conducting program outreach activities, to advise that medical treatment is not available under the program; and (5) require a report (current law requires two reports) from the Secretary to the veterans' committees on program activities.

Title II: Education and Employment - Subtitle A: Education Matters - Changes from a fiscal year to a calendar year basis the calculation of a reporting fee to be charged to the Department to cover certain reporting costs of educational institutions that have veterans enrolled under the veterans' educational assistance program (VEAP). Requires such fee to be paid from amounts appropriated for veterans' readjustment benefits.

(Sec. 202) Allows an individual to elect to be paid in advance under the veterans' work-study program. (Current law requires such advance payment.)

(Sec. 205) Waives certain wage increase and minimum pay rate requirements with respect to Federal job training programs.

(Sec. 206) Requires the Secretary to furnish to members of the armed forces participating in VEAP information relating to the benefits, limitations, procedures, eligibility requirements and other aspects of such program, including application requirements. Requires amounts appropriated for veterans' readjustment benefits to be used to cover the costs of providing such information.

(Sec. 207) Requires the Secretary of the military department concerned to inform military personnel who have not completed their initial obligated period of active or reserve duty but who wish to be discharged or released for the convenience of the Government of the minimum active-duty requirements for entitlement to VEAP benefits. Requires a description of such notification efforts to be included in a currently required report from the Secretary of Defense to the Congress.

Subtitle B: Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act Amendments - Allows a veteran receiving a notification from the Secretary of an unsuccessful effort to resolve an employment or reemployment complaint relating to a State or private employer to request the Secretary to refer the complaint to the Attorney General. Empowers U.S. district courts to hear cases commenced against a State or private employer by the United States on behalf of such veterans, or against a private employer by a person. Requires direct payment to the veteran of any claim compensation which is considered lost wages or benefits or liquidated damages.

(Sec. 212) Includes within the definition of "employee," for purposes of employment and reemployment rights, any person who is a citizen, national, or permanent resident alien of the United States employed in a foreign workplace by an employer that is an entity incorporated or otherwise organized in the United States or that is controlled by an entity organized in the United States. Provides that if a U.S. employer controls a foreign entity, then any denial of employment, reemployment, or benefits by such foreign entity shall be presumed to be by such employer. Provides an exception when employer compliance would violate the law of the foreign country in which the workplace is located.

(Sec. 213) Authorizes a veteran claiming employment or reemployment rights to request the Secretary to refer such complaint to the Merit Systems Protection Board (current law) without regard to whether such complaint accrued before, on, or after October 13, 1994 (the effective date of such provision).

Title III: Compensation, Pension, and Insurance - Increases from $400 to $600 the special monthly pension payable to Medal of Honor recipients.

(Sec. 302) Authorizes a terminally ill person insured under Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance or Veterans' Group Life Insurance to elect to receive in a lump-sum payment a portion of the face value of such insurance as an accelerated death benefit, reduced by an amount necessary to ensure that there is no increase in the actuarial value of the benefit paid. Prohibits any benefit so paid from exceeding 50 percent of the face value of the person's insurance in force on the date of such election. Requires any unpaid portion to be paid upon the actual death of the individual. Defines a person as "terminally ill" if such person has a medical prognosis of a life expectancy of less than a period to be prescribed by the Secretary, but in no case longer than 12 months. Makes irrevocable the election to receive such early benefit.

(Sec. 303) Directs the Secretary to report to the veterans' committees assessing the adequacy of the Department's insurance and survivor benefits programs in meeting the needs of survivors of veterans with service-connected disabilities, including survivors who cared for catastrophically disabled veterans.

(Sec. 304) Eliminates a provision requiring premiums paid on specified policies issued to disabled veterans under the National Service Life Insurance Act of 1940 to be credited directly to, and benefits to be paid directly from, the National Service Life Insurance appropriation.

Title IV: Memorial Affairs - Directs the Secretary to furnish a memorial headstone or marker for a deceased or surviving spouse of a veteran whose remains are not available for interment. Includes as a surviving spouse an unremarried surviving spouse whose subsequent remarriage was terminated by death or divorce.

Directs the Secretary, when a memorial or marker has been furnished for a veteran, to add, when feasible, an inscription memorializing such veteran's spouse in lieu of furnishing a headstone or marker for such spouse.

Requires the erection of appropriate group memorials to honor the memory of such persons and of veterans who are missing in action.

(Sec. 402) Extends veterans' benefits to an individual who served as a member of the U.S. merchant marine between August 16, 1945, and December 31, 1946, and who, during that period, was a crewmember of a vessel that at the time of service was: (1) operated by the War Shipping Administration, the Office of Defense Transportation, or an agent thereof; (2) operated in waters other than the inland waters, the Great Lakes, and other lakes, bays, and harbors of the United States; (3) under contract or charter to, or was property of, the U.S. Government; and (4) serving the armed forces.

Establishes application procedures. Requires the issuance of a certificate of honorable discharge to an individual who performed qualified service. Deems qualified service to be active duty in the armed forces during a period of war. Sets forth provisions regarding: (1) reimbursement of the Secretary for benefits provided under this section; and (2) an application processing fee.

(Sec. 403) Redesignates the: (1) National Cemetery System of the Department as the National Cemetery Administration; and (2) position of Director of the System as the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs.

(Sec. 404) Revises cost limitations with respect to grants made by the Secretary to States for establishing, expanding, or improving veterans' cemeteries (State cemetery grant program). Requires the State to contribute the amount by which specified costs exceed grant amounts. Removes the requirement that amounts authorized for the grant program shall remain available only until the end of the second fiscal year after their appropriation. Extends through FY 2004 the authorization of appropriations for the grant program.

Title V: Court of Veterans Appeals - Subtitle A: Administrative Provisions Relating to the Court - Authorizes a judge of the Court of Veterans Appeals (Court) who is nominated for reappointment and whose current term of office expires to continue in office for up to one year while such nomination is pending.

(Sec. 502) Exempts the Court of Veterans Appeals Retirement Fund from sequestration under the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act). Requires judges' survivor annuities to be increased at the same time and by the same percentage that annuities payable from the Judicial Survivors' Annuities Fund are increased.

(Sec. 504) Requires the Court chief judge to report to the veterans' committees on the feasibility and desirability of: (1) merging the Court's retirement plan with retirement plans of other Federal judges; and (2) allowing Court judges to participate in the survivor annuity programs available to other Federal judges.

Subtitle B: Renaming of Court - Renames the Court as the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

Title VI: Housing - Authorizes the Secretary to guarantee the full or partial repayment of loans for the provision of multifamily transitional housing (MTH) for homeless veterans. Sets a maximum aggregate amount of $100 million and a maximum number of 15 such loans that may be guaranteed, not more than five of which may be guaranteed during the first three years after enactment of this Act. Outlines provisions concerning: (1) loan requirements; (2) requirements for veterans being provided MTH assistance; and (3) loan default procedures.

Requires each MTH project to be audited during its first three years of operation.

(Sec. 602) Establishes in the Treasury the Veterans Housing Benefit Program Fund for use in all veterans' housing loan operations. Provides for Fund deposits and transfers from other funds.

(Sec. 603) Extends through FY 2003 the eligibility of members of the Selected Reserve for veterans' housing loans, as well as a related loan fee requirement.

(Sec. 604) Makes Federal procurement law as outlined under the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 applicable to Department supplies or services contracts.

Title VII: Construction and Facilities Matters - Authorizes the Secretary to carry out major medical facility projects in specified amounts at Department medical centers or outpatient clinics at the following locations: (1) Long Beach, California; (2) San Juan, Puerto Rico; (3) Washington, D.C.; (4) Palo Alto, California; (5) Cleveland, Ohio; (6) Tucson, Arizona; (7) Dallas, Texas; (8) Auburn and Merced, California; (9) Lebanon, Pennsylvania; and (10) Tampa, Florida.

Authorizes the Secretary to construct a parking structure at the Department Medical Center in Denver, Colorado.

(Sec. 702) Authorizes the Secretary to enter into leases for satellite outpatient clinics in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Daytona Beach, Florida, and Oakland Park, Florida.

(Sec. 703) Authorizes appropriations to the Secretary for FY 1999 and 2000 for the Construction, Major Projects, account, and the Medical Care account, with limitations.

(Sec. 704) Increases from $300,000 to $600,000 the major medical facility lease threshold amount after which specific congressional authorization is required.

(Sec. 705) Increases from $3 million to $4 million the threshold for a Department parking facility project to be considered a major medical facility project.

(Sec. 706) Prohibits the Secretary from establishing any parking fee at the Spark M. Matsunaga Department of Veterans Affairs Medical and Regional Office Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. Requires a report from the Secretary to the veterans' committees on the Department's experience in exercising and administering its authority to charge parking fees at Department medical facilities.

(Sec. 707) Directs the Secretary to report to the Congress on the Department's master plan relating to the use of Department lands at the West Los Angeles Medical Center, California.

(Sec. 708) Designates the Department medical center in: (1) Aspinwall, Pennsylvania, as the H. John Heinz III Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center; and (2) Gainesville, Florida, as the Malcom Randall Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Designates the Department outpatient clinic in Columbus, Ohio, as the Chalmers P. Wylie Veterans Outpatient Clinic.

Title VIII: Health Professionals Educational Assistance - Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Personnel Incentive Act of 1998 - Directs the Secretary, as part of VEAP, to carry out a scholarship program to be known as the Department of Veterans Affairs Employee Incentive Scholarship Program for Department employees enrolled in a field of education or training in the health professions and for which recruitment or retention of qualified personnel is difficult. Requires participating employees to have been employed by the Department for at least two years.

Requires an agreement between the Secretary and the employee under which the scholarship is provided in return for the employee's agreement to serve in the Department's Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for up to three calendar years for each year in which the scholarship is provided, but for not less than three years.

Prohibits individual scholarship payments from exceeding $10,000 in any one year and from continuing for more than three years. Allows up to a six-year period for part-time students. Sets forth provisions concerning: (1) determination of the service commencement date; and (2) liability for breach of the service agreement. Prohibits the Secretary from furnishing such scholarships to individuals who have not commenced Program participation before December 31, 2001.

(Sec. 803) Authorizes the Secretary to carry out as part of VEAP a program to be known as the Department of Veterans Affairs Education Debt Reduction Program under which financial assistance shall be provided to personnel serving in health-care positions in VHA to reduce the debt incurred in completing programs of education or training for such service. Makes eligible under such Program individuals who are recently appointed (less than six months) in a position for which recruitment or retention of qualified health-care personnel is difficult. Allows such payments only if the individual maintains an acceptable level of performance during the payment period. Provides maximum payment amounts of $6,000, $8,000, and $10,000 for the first, second, and third years, respectively. Prohibits any such payments to individuals who have not commenced Program participation before December 31, 2001.

(Sec. 804) Repeals a provision of the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 which prohibits payment of tuition loans on behalf of VHA employees.

Title IX: Miscellaneous Medical Care and Medical Administration Provisions - Authorizes the Secretary to examine veterans, and provide hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care which is needed, for treatment of any head or neck cancer which the Secretary finds may be associated with the veteran's receipt of nasopharyngeal radium irradiation treatments during active military service. Requires documented evidence of the receipt of such treatments, except for veterans who: (1) served as an aviator before the end of the Korean conflict; or (2) underwent submarine training in active naval service before January 1, 1965.

(Sec. 902) Extends through December 31, 2001, the authority to provide counseling and treatment to veterans to overcome sexual trauma.

(Sec. 903) Extends through April 1, 2001, reporting requirements of the Secretary concerning management of Department hospital care and medical services. Requires VHA's Under Secretary for Health to prescribe objective standards of job performance for Department employees having responsibility for allocating and managing Department hospital and medical resources.

(Sec. 904) Makes permanent the Department's authority to use certain amounts made available due to a pension limitation for certain veterans receiving nursing home care in order to cover operating expenses at Department medical facilities.

(Sec. 905) Directs the Secretary to report to the veterans' committees assessing the system of locality-based pay for VHA nurses established under the Department of Veterans Affairs Nurse Pay Act of 1990. Requires an updated report at a later date.

(Sec. 906) Directs the Secretary to report annually to the veterans' committees on Department activities relating to preparation for, and participation in, a domestic medical response to an attack involving weapons of mass destruction.

(Sec. 907) Authorizes the President to appoint to the position of Under Secretary of Health, for service through June 30, 1999, the individual whose appointment to that position expired on September 28, 1998.

Title X: Other Matters - Requires a facility, structure, or real property of the Department, and a major portion thereof (such as a wing or floor), to be named only for the geographic area in which it is located.

(Sec. 1002) Directs the Secretary to appoint to a Board of Veterans' Appeals attorney position a member who is removed from such Board, but who served as an attorney in the civil service before the Board appointment.

(Sec. 1003) Allows a motion to be granted for advancement on the docket of appeals to be heard by such Board, for good cause shown. Authorizes a hearing to be held in a Department regional office to be advanced to an earlier date, for good cause shown.

(Sec. 1004) Revises provisions concerning the disabled veterans' outreach program to: (1) require amounts authorized for the program to be sufficient to provide one program specialist for each 7,400 veterans residing in a State who are between the ages of 20 and 64; and (2) remove the requirement that preference in the appointment of such specialists be given to Vietnam era disabled veterans.

Title XI: Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment - Directs the Secretary, effective December 1, 1998, to increase the rates of and limitations on veterans' disability compensation, additional compensation for dependents of certain disabled veterans, the clothing allowance for certain service-disabled veterans, veterans' dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for surviving spouses and children, and supplemental DIC for disabled adult children. Requires the publication of such rates at the same time as publication is required for an increase of rates under title II (Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance) of the Social Security Act.