Veterans bill improves benefits, protections
By Rick Maze
– Staff writer
Posted : Friday Oct 15, 2010 13:27:03 EDT
An omnibus veterans benefits bill signed into law on Wednesday holds the promise of big changes for disabled veterans and their families, according to the two committee chairmen responsible for passing the compromise bill.
One example is an expansion of employment and re-employment legal protections and more financial protections for deployed and mobilized service members, including the opportunity for service members to sue people or businesses who violate the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act.
The bill, the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010, was passed by Congress before lawmakers took an election break and was signed by President Obama on Wednesday.
“Veterans across the country will see their benefits improve,” said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, highlighting programs to increase automotive grants for disabled veterans, provide childcare services for homeless veterans and expand life insurance for disabled veterans.
“Many of these provisions were pending for some time, and I am pleased that they have now become law,” said Akaka, referring to the fact that the bill took two years to pass as lawmakers grappled with what programs to include and what to leave out.
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., the House Veterans’ Affairs committee chairman, said the bill “will make a big difference in the lives” of many veterans. He mentioned improvements in employment help, more research into health issues facing Gulf War veterans and expansion of financial and legal protections of deployed troops as key items.
Until now, violations of the legal or financial protections under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act did not include penalties. Now, violators would face fines of up to $55,000 for a first offense and up to $110,000 for subsequent violations, and individuals whose rights are violated also may sue for civil damages and attorney fees.
Additionally, the law expands termination rights for residential and motor vehicle leases and for telephone service contracts.
On auto and residential leases, the new law requires unpaid balances to be pro-rated from the effective date of termination, rather than being charged through the end of the next billing period. And when residential leases are canceled because of mobilization or deployment, early termination fees may not be charged.
On telephone contracts, the law allows termination of a cell phone or telephone exchange service any time a military member receives notice of orders to relocate for 90 days or longer to a location not served by the current contract.
Additionally, family-plan cell phone contracts could be terminated if anyone on the plan is a service member who deploys or moves out of the service area. When phone service is terminated, a phone company would have to keep it available for up to three years for reuse by a service member, but getting the old number would require re-subscribing to the phone service within 90 days of returning.