Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Passed House amended (10/08/2003)

Veterans Benefits Act of 2003 - (Sec. 2) Includes under the Montgomery GI Bill education program a program of self-employment on-job training consisting of full-time training for a period of less than six months that is needed or accepted for obtaining licensure to engage in a self-employment occupation or required for franchise ownership and operation.

(Sec. 3) Extends the delimiting period of eligibility for military survivors' and dependents' education assistance, with respect to a member who is involuntarily ordered to full-time National Guard duty, for the length of such duty plus four months.

(Sec. 4) Extends through 2009 the Veterans' Advisory Committee on Education.

(Sec. 5) Repeals the Department of Veterans Affairs Education Loan Program. Transfers any balance in the Department of Veterans Affairs Education Loan Fund to the Department of Veterans Affairs Readjustment Benefits Account. Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to discharge any outstanding liability of a veteran under such Program.

(Sec. 6) Provides that the remarriage of a surviving spouse of a veteran after age 55 shall not bar the payment of veterans' dependency and indemnity compensation to which such spouse was previously entitled. Prohibits any reduction in other benefits for which a veteran's surviving spouse is eligible because of such surviving spouse's eligibilty for dependency and indemnity compensation.

(Sec. 7) Makes all remarried surviving spouses of veterans eligible for burial in a national cemetery. (Currently, such eligibility is permitted only for remarried former spouses whose subsequent marriage was terminated by death or divorce.)

(Sec. 8) Makes permanent (currently ends at the end of FY 2004) the authority of the Secretary to make grants to States to establish and operate national cemeteries.

(Sec. 9) Establishes a new period of five years from the date of enactment of this Act for a program of Department vocational training for low-income, pension-receiving veterans under the age of 45. (The previous period ran from February 1, 1985, through December 31, 1995.) Directs the Secretary to: (1) provide appropriate program outreach; and (2) report annually to the veterans' committees on program operation.

(Sec. 10) Increases from: (1) $48,000 to $50,000 the maximum amount authorized to be provided by the Department to certain disabled veterans for the construction of specially adapted housing; (2) $9,250 to $10,000 the maximum authorized for specially adapted features within a home; and (3) $9,000 to $11,000 the maximum authorized for automobile and adaptive equipment for such veterans.

(Sec. 11) Revises Federal provisions relating to the presumption of service-connection for certain diseases manifest in former prisoners of war to consider the following diseases to have been incurred in or aggravated by military service without any minimum period of internment (currently, internment of at least 30 days is required): psychosis; any of the anxiety states; dysthymic disorder; organic residuals of frostbite when consistent with prisoner conditions; and post-traumatic osteoarthritis. Adds cirrhosis of the liver to the list of diseases which will be considered as having been incurred in or aggravated by such service if: (1) the veteran was interned for at least 30 days; and (2) the disease becomes manifest to a degree of ten percent or more after active military service.

(Sec. 12) Provides health care, vocational training and rehabilitation, and a monthly disability allowance through the Department to the natural child of a parent who performed active military service in the Republic of Korea in a specified area of the Demilitarized Zone if such child was conceived after such service and suffers from spina bifida.

(Sec. 13) Makes permanent (currently expires on September 30, 2009) the eligibility of certain former members of the Selected Reserve for veterans' housing loans.

(Sec. 14) Revises the fee amounts charged under the veterans' home loan guaranty program. Makes such fee for qualifying reserve personnel identical to that charged for active-duty veterans.

(Sec. 15) Reinstates the minimum and maximum percentages of purchases during a fiscal year of real property acquired by the Secretary as the result of a default on a guaranteed loan that may be financed by a loan made by the Secretary. Increases the maximum percentage to 85 (65 under provisions that expired after September 30, 1990).

(Sec. 16) Qualifies for the payment of certain survivors' benefits the surviving spouses of former members of the Philippine Commonwealth Army or new Philippine Scouts who served with U.S. armed forces during World War II and became U.S. citizens or lawfully resided in the United States. Qualifies for national cemetery burial new Philippine Scouts (and their spouses) who so served and became U.S. citizens or lawful residents.

(Sec. 18) Extends through 2009 the authority to maintain a regional Department office in the Republic of the Philippines.

(Sec. 19) Directs the Secretary of Labor to station employees of the Veterans' Employment and Training Service, or contractors, at each veterans' assistance office established by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on overseas military installations. Requires such personnel to carry out employment counseling under the Transition Assistance Program and the Disabled Transition Assistance Program for persons separating from active duty and their spouses.

(Sec. 20) Adds certain criminal subversive activities offenses to those which will cause a veteran to lose the right to gratuitous benefits (including national cemetery burial) provided through the Department.