Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Passed Senate amended (09/21/2000)

Veterans Programs Enhancement Act of 2000 - Title I: Benefits Matters - Subtitle A: Compensation and Pension Matters - Amends Federal veterans' benefits provisions to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make reasonable efforts to assist in the development of information and medical or lay evidence necessary to establish the eligibility of a claimant for veterans' benefits. Eliminates the requirement to provide such assistance if no reasonable possibility exists that the assistance would aid in the establishment of eligibility. Outlines required assistance for both veterans' benefits claims and claims for veterans' disability compensation, including efforts to obtain appropriate service and medical records. Requires efforts to obtain appropriate records to continue until it is reasonably certain that such records do not exist. Requires the Secretary to provide a medical examination or obtain a medical opinion when necessary to substantiate benefit entitlement. Requires Federal departments or agencies to bear the cost of providing appropriate information for a claimant. Places on the claimant the burden of proving entitlement to benefits (currently, of submitting evidence sufficient to justify a belief by a fair and impartial individual that the claim is well grounded). Provides for the readjudication of claims for benefits that were denied, because the claims were not well grounded, during the period between July 14, 1999, and this Act's enactment date.

(Sec. 102) Includes in the list of diseases presumed to be service-connected, in the case of radiation-exposed veterans, and therefore compensable for purposes of veterans' disability compensation and medical care: (1) lung cancer; (2) colon cancer; (3) tumors of the brain and central nervous system; and (4) ovarian cancer.

(Sec. 103) Provides monthly veterans' disability compensation for female veterans who lose one or both breasts as a result of a service-connected disability.

Subtitle B: Education Matters - Amends Federal basic educational assistance provisions (the Montgomery GI Bill) to: (1) require for eligibility for such assistance, for both regular and reserve personnel, that the individual complete the requirements for a secondary school diploma, or the equivalent of 12 semester hours in a program of education leading to a standard college degree, before applying for such benefits; (2) allow such individuals to withdraw their election not to enroll in the benefits program; (3) reduce from three to two years the obligated period of active or reserve service before becoming eligible for such benefits; and (4) revise the amounts of such assistance based on the initial period of obligated duty.

(Sec. 113) Includes within the term "program of education" for purposes of GI Bill educational benefits a preparatory course for a test that is required or utilized for admission to a college or graduate school.

(Sec. 114) Revises generally the period of eligibility for the receipt of survivors' and dependents' educational assistance for individuals whose eligibility is based on the permanent total disability or death of a parent. Revises the effective date for the award of such assistance.

Subtitle C: Housing Matters - Prohibits any reduction in assistance for specially adapted housing for disabled veterans for veterans sharing joint ownership of a housing unit.

(Sec. 122) Amends Federal provisions concerning guaranteed housing loans made to veterans to: (1) increase the maximum guarantee amount; and (2) terminate the collection of a loan guarantee fee from veterans who are rated eligible to receive disability compensation at a pre-discharge rating examination.

Subtitle D: Insurance Matters - Prohibits the premium rate for term service disabled veterans' insurance from exceeding the renewal age 70 premium rate.

(Sec. 132) Increases from $200,000 to $250,000 the automatic maximum coverage under both Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans' Group Life Insurance.

(Sec. 133) Includes as insurable dependents under SGLI the member's spouse and any child who is unmarried and for whom the member is providing over 50 percent of such child's support. Requires any SGLI policy purchased by the Secretary to automatically insure against death each insurable dependent of a member, with specified limits. Allows a member to elect not to insure a spouse, or to insure a spouse for less than the maximum amount. Terminates dependent insurance coverage upon election by the member to terminate such insurance, or the date that is 120 days after the earlier of: (1) the date of the member's death; (2) the date of termination of the member's insurance; or (3) the date on which the dependent no longer meets insuring criteria. Allows an insured spouse whose insurance is terminated to elect to covert such policy to an individual policy of insurance (requiring the payment of premiums). Requires member pay deductions for such insurance coverage. Outlines provisions concerning premium amounts and rates. Provides for the payment of insurance in force on the date of a dependent's death. Directs the Secretary to inform active-duty military personnel of the insurance benefits available for dependents and allow an opportunity for such member to make appropriate insurance elections.

Subtitle E: Burial Matters - Makes eligible for interment in national cemeteries Filipino Commonwealth Army veterans of World War II, as long as each such veteran, at their time of death, was a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in the United States.

Subtitle F: Employment Matters - Provides a veterans' employment emphasis under Federal contracts of $25,000 or more for recently separated veterans (those discharged or released within one year).

(Sec. 152) Requires the Comptroller General to carry out a comprehensive audit of the Veterans Employment and Training Service of the Department of Labor to provide a basis for future evaluations of Service effectiveness in meeting its mission. Requires audit results to be submitted to the congressional veterans' committees.

Subtitle G: Benefits for Children of Female Vietnam Veterans - Children of Women Vietnam Veterans' Benefits Act of 2000 - Directs the Secretary to identify birth defects of children of female Vietnam veterans that: (1) are associated with service during the Vietnam era; and (2) result in the permanent physical or mental disability of such children. Excludes spina bifida from such defects, along with familial or birth-related defects or injuries. Directs the Secretary to provide to such children necessary health care to address the defect and any associated disability. Authorizes the Secretary to provide vocational training to such a child if the achievement of a vocational goal is reasonably feasible.

Directs the Secretary to pay a monthly allowance to such a child, the amount to be determined through a schedule rating the various covered defects and disabilities and their degrees. Prohibits individuals receiving benefits or assistance under these provisions from receiving benefits or assistance under provisions authorizing benefits for children of Vietnam veterans who are born with spina bifida. Prohibits the provision of any assistance or benefits where affirmative evidence shows the birth defect to be the result of something other than service in Vietnam.

Subtitle H: Other Benefits Matters - Directs the Secretary of Defense to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to carry out periodic reviews of the dose reconstruction program of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (radiation exposure dose reconstruction). Requires an Academy report to Congress.

Title II: Health Care Matters - Excludes from medication copayment requirements veterans determined unable to defray the necessary expenses of hospital, nursing home, and medical care.

(Sec. 202) Establishes within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) an Advisor on Physician Assistants, to advise the Under Secretary for Health concerning the utilization of physician assistants and related matters.

(Sec. 203) Authorizes the temporary (for up to two years) full-time appointment within the VHA of individuals who have successfully completed a full course of training as a physician assistant in a recognized school approved by the Secretary. Limits to three years the temporary full-time appointment authority for other professional, clerical, technical, and unskilled personnel.

Title III: Construction and Facilities Matters - Subtitle A: Construction Matters - Authorizes the Secretary to carry out major medical facility projects in Palo Alto, California, and Beckley, West Virginia.

(Sec. 302) Amends the Veterans Millennium Health Care and Benefits Act to authorize the Secretary to carry out during FY 2000 a major medical facility project at the Department medical center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

(Sec. 303) Authorizes appropriations for FY 2001 for the Construction, Major Projects, account.

Increases the authorization of appropriations under the above Act to cover the added project.

Subtitle B: Other Matters - Increases from three to 20 years the maximum period for the lease of certain Department property for homeless purposes.

(Sec. 312) Directs the Secretary to convey to Custer County, Montana, the Miles City Veterans Administration Medical Center complex in Miles City, Montana, for use for veterans activities, community and economic development, or other appropriate public purposes.

(Sec. 313) Authorizes the Secretary to convey to the State of Colorado the Ft. Lyon Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, for use as a correctional facility. Requires the Secretary to: (1) complete a conveyance plan which considers current patients at the Center; and (2) complete the evaluation and performance of all necessary environmental restoration activities.

(Sec. 314) Authorizes the Secretary to pay the State of Colorado, or any private nursing home facility, for costs incurred in providing nursing home care to veterans relocated from the Ft. Lyon Center as the result of the conveyance under the previous section. Applies the authority to pay voluntary separation incentive payments to eligible Center employees whose separation occurs before June 30, 2001. Requires a report from the Under Secretary for Health to the veterans' committees on the status of the health care system for veterans under the Veterans Integrated Service Network in southern Colorado.