- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 12, 2001

The House approved three bills yesterday providing $6.6 billion over the next five years to help veterans escape homelessness and obtain greater education, housing, burial and disability benefits.
Two of the bills $1 billion to aid homeless veterans and $2.5 billion to increase compensation payments for disabled veterans now go to the White House for the president's signature. The third bill, a $3.1 billion boost for education and other benefits, still needs Senate approval. All three passed by voice vote.
The homelessness bill provides medical and mental health services, substance-abuse treatment and job training. It was sponsored in the House by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, and in the Senate by Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat.
The bill also authorizes an additional 2,000 low-income housing vouchers, with priority going to those veterans under care for mental illness or substance-use disorders.
Mr. Smith said the goal of the bill is to end chronic homelessness among veterans within 10 years.
The disabilities bill provides a 2.6 percent cost-of-living increase for disabled veterans and their survivors from Dec. 1.
The third measure would increase the current monthly payment of $672 that a veteran with three years of active duty can receive for education programs. The stipend would rise to $800 on Jan. 1, 2002; $900 on Oct. 1, 2002; and $985 on Oct. 1, 2003.
The bill also:
Removes the 30-year period during which respiratory cancers can be linked to exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange.
Adds type 2 diabetes to the list of diseases presumed to be service-connected in Vietnam veterans exposed to herbicides.
Expands the list of undiagnosed illnesses for which Persian Gulf war veterans would be eligible for disability compensation to include fibromyalgia, a painful disease of the connective tissue, chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic multisymptom illness.
Increases the home loan guaranty for qualified veterans from the current $50,750 to $60,000.



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