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Vets benefits bill clears initial Senate hurdle

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has blocked amendments on some bills, concerned that GOP senators would use them to embarrass Democrats on politically divisive issues like rolling back Obama's health care overhaul.

The conservative group Heritage Action urged senators to oppose Sanders' bill, saying its failure to revamp the VA results in "harming both veterans truly in need of assistance and taxpayers in the process."

The House has approved some of the benefit improvements in Sanders' bill, but Republicans who run that chamber say they oppose parts of the Senate bill and want better ways of financing it.

Sanders' bill would be paid for mostly with money left unspent from the end of U.S. fighting in Iraq and the phase-out of American forces in Afghanistan. Republicans consider that phony savings since those wars were already winding down and there were no real plans to spend that money on fighting.

Sanders' bill would let many uninsured veterans without service-connected injuries get coverage from the VA health care system.

The Democratic bill would also make it easier for veterans to qualify for in-state tuition at public universities. Jobless programs would be extended and states would be pressured to make it easier for veterans to get truck driver's and other licenses.

The measure would provide fertility treatment and coverage of adoption costs for veterans whose infertility sprang from service-related injuries. It would also expand VA counseling and treatment for sexual assault victims and increase the agency's chiropractic care, dentistry coverage and alternative medicine, such as using yoga to treat stress.

A two-year program would pay for fitness center memberships for overweight veterans who live more than 15 minutes from a VA fitness facility.

The bill also erased a 1 percent cut in annual inflation increases for veterans who retire early from the military that Congress enacted late last year. Legislation signed this month by Obama ended that cut for most early retirees, so Sanders now wants to end it for those who joined the military beginning this year.

Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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