New Laws for Veterans and Servicemembers in 2022: NDAA
Every year, Congress passes an updated National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. The NDAA is an annual bill that authorizes military funding for the Department of Defense (DoD) and provides guidance on how the funding can be spent.
President Biden signed the 2022 NDAA into law on December 27, 2021. The 2022 bill authorizes about $770 billion for the military, and includes several provisions that will greatly benefit veterans and service members, such as:
- Pay increases for military service members and DoD employees
- Reform measures surrounding burn pits and “forever chemicals”
- Increased research and improved treatment options for veterans with mental health conditions
- Prostate and breast cancer care and prevention
- Military sexual assault reform
- Expansion of the GI Bill
- And more.
2022 NDAA: Reforms for Veterans
Military Sexual Assault Reform
Provisions in the bill will revamp how the military prosecutes cases of sexual assault. Specifically, Congress created prosecutor positions (i.e., the Special Trial Counsel) to handle cases of sexual assault and related crimes, as well as murder, manslaughter, and kidnapping. This means these cases will no longer be handled by military commanders.
The 2022 NDAA ensures that prosecutors are trained, equipped, and qualified to handle sexual assault cases. In addition, the bill makes sexual harassment its own offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It also requires independent investigations with specified timelines of any complaints of sexual harassment.
Burn Pit Bills
The 2022 NDAA includes a pair of bills that will bring sweeping reform to the military’s use of burn pits. The two bills are:
- DoD Burn Pits Health Provider Training Act – Requires the DoD to implement mandatory medical training for health care providers on the effects of burn pits.
- Burn Pit Registry Expansion Act – Expands the Burn Pit Registry to include those stationed in Egypt and Syria.
The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, which began in June 2014, is an online database for veterans and service members “to document their exposures and report health concerns.” The Burn Pit Registry helps medical providers identify and help at-risk service members and veterans.
Veterans Health Care Bills
The NDAA also contains several acts that intend to improve veterans’ access to medical treatment for certain service-related conditions. The following are included in the 2022 NDAA:
- Making Advancements in Mammography and Medical Options (MAMMO) for Veterans Act – Strengthens breast cancer screening and care and creates tele-mammography pilot programs in areas where veterans do not have access to such services.
- Veterans Prostate Cancer Treatment and Research Act – Expands treatment and research of the number one most diagnosed cancer in the Veterans Health Administration system.
- PTSD Processing Claims Improvement Act – Improves VA’s PTSD claims processing and ensures these veterans have access to care.
- Servicemembers and Veterans Empowerment and Support Act – Improves access to benefits and care for MST survivors and bolsters claim processing for former Guard and Reserve members.
Health Record Modernization
The 2022 NDAA also addresses the Electronic Health Record Modernization (EHRM) program. Senators are requesting more transparency from the Department of Veterans Affairs, requiring regular updates about the costs and schedule for the EHRM program.
Essentially, Congress is looking for an end to the string of poor audit reports on the EHRM. Auditors found that VA previously underreported costs for the project by as much as $5 billion.
Information Technology Reform
The Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Reform Act of 2021 was passed as part of the NDAA. This bipartisan legislation aims to increase transparency and accountability through Congressional oversight into proposed and current information technology systems and management at VA.
Additionally, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced Kurt D. DelBene to serve as VA’s Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology – a position responsible for delivering adaptable, secure, and cost-effective technology services to VA employees and veterans.
New Global War on Terror Memorial at National Mall
As part of the NDAA, Congress authorized a choice location on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the Global War on Terror Memorial. This memorial will serve as a lasting tribute to the courage and sacrifice of those who served in the nation’s longest conflict.
Lifetime Access to National Parks
The NDAA allows veterans, Gold Star Families, and active-duty military members free access to all 423 United States national parks and federal recreational land sites.
Other Bills Related to Veterans
In addition to the bills and reforms mentioned above, the 2022 NDAA includes several more acts related to veterans, including:
- Rural Veterans Travel Enhancement Act – Expands travel assistance programs for low-income veterans.
- Reform and Update Rural Access to Local Exams Act – Improves rural veteran access to medical disability exams (MDEs) by enhancing transparency and revamping delivery of these exams.
- Veterans Benefits Improvement Act – Bipartisan push to tackle VA’s backlog, increase transparency throughout the claims process, and deliver timelier decisions.
- Burial Equity for Guard and Reserve Act – Allows National Guard and Reserve veterans to be buried in state veterans cemeteries.
2022 NDAA: Policy Changes for Service Members
Regulation of Forever Chemicals
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, have been connected to various health issues including some cancers, liver damage and decreased fertility. Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” they tend to not break down and to stay in the human body indefinitely. PFAS have been used to make non-stick cookware, stain resistant fabrics, cosmetics, some firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil.
New regulations in the 2022 NDAA require the Department of Defense to publish results of drinking and ground water PFAS testing conducted on or near military installations or former defense sites so they are publicly available.
Pay Raises for Military and DoD Employees
The NDAA bill includes a 2.7 percent pay increase for military service members and DoD civilian employees.
Service members may also see a boost in their housing benefits. The Defense Department is raising its basic allowance for housing by an average of 5.1 percent in 2022. This is a big increase compared to the last two years, which came in at just under 3 percent.
GI Bill Expansion
The NDAA includes a provision to extend GI Bill protections for student veterans still forced into remote classes by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This extension, which was originally set to end on December 21, 2021, will now continue through summer 2022.
GI Bill benefits will also be expanded to include select National Guard and Reserve duty statuses.
Extended Parental Leave
By the end of next year, new military parents will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid family leave following the birth or adoption of a child. Although service members already had access to family leave, the amount varied between types of military service, and some members received as little as two weeks. This new provision standardizes paid parental leave across all military services.
Additionally, new military moms who are the primary caregiver may receive 12 weeks of leave in addition to their 6 weeks of convalescent leave for a birth or adoption.
Need Assistance Securing VA Disability Benefits?
Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD is nationally recognized for helping disabled veterans secure the benefits they deserve. If VA denied your claim for disability compensation, CCK may be able to help. Call 800-544-9144 to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.
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