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Bill would ensure that veterans get all due benefits

WASHINGTON—Officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs and major veterans' advocacy groups on Thursday threw their weight behind a bill that would boost efforts to find veterans who aren't getting disability and other benefits they may be due.

The legislation, prompted by a Knight Ridder story last summer, would require the VA to detail its plans to identify veterans who aren't enrolled for VA benefits or services. It also would require the VA to coordinate with veterans' groups and state officials who conduct such outreach efforts.

A top VA official told a hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs that the agency supports the bill.

"We believe that no one should be deprived of an available veterans benefit because he or she did not know that such a benefit was available," Daniel Cooper, the agency's undersecretary for benefits, said in a statement.

Officials from veterans' service organizations such as the Disabled American Veterans said they also supported the legislation. The bill awaits action in the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and the House of Representatives is expected to consider parallel legislation. The backing of the VA, veterans' groups and senators of both parties suggests that it has a good chance of passing.

Last July, Knight Ridder reported that an estimated 572,000 veterans might be missing out on VA disability-compensation payments, which range from $108 to $2,299 a month. The estimate was based on an analysis of VA survey data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Veterans are compensated for mental or physical injuries sustained during military service. But many either don't know they're eligible or are scared off by the VA's red tape.

Knight Ridder also reported that the percentage of veterans on the VA's rolls varied widely from state to state, from 16 percent in Alaska to 6 percent in Illinois, suggesting that outreach efforts by state agencies and regional VA offices may be uneven.

"Veterans should not have to jump through hoops to learn about and receive the benefits they've earned," said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., citing the Knight Ridder analysis. Pryor is a co-sponsor of the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.

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To read last year's Knight Ridder report on veterans benefits online, go to

http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/news/special(underscore)packages/veterans/past(underscorecoverage

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