By Charles Owens
For The Register-Herald
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., announced Friday during a stop in McDowell County that he was introducing legislation to help National Guard and Reserve members receive their VA benefits and services.
Rahall was the keynote speaker for a Stand Down ceremony sponsored by the McDowell County Visitors and Veteran Center. Veterans who attended the event received a free bag of groceries, toiletries, various clothing items, and a free flu shot, in addition to being treated to a free home-cooked meal.
Rahall said H.R. 2841, or the Guard and Reserve Equal Access to Health Act, would authorize a member of the Reserve component to receive an end-of-service physical within 90 days of separation should that service member desire one. In addition, the bill requires the Department of Defense to provide the service member with a copy of the records from the physical.
“Members of the Guard and Reserve are more likely than their active-duty counterparts to have their VA claims denied,” Rahall, a member of the National Guard and Reserve Caucus, said. “My bill aims to fix that by ensuring a proper medical examination before a reservist or guardsman separates from the service, which will help ensure parity between reserve and active-duty components. I hope to reduce the disproportionate denial of reservists’ VA claims.”
Under current law, a member of the Reserve component must be put on orders to receive a physical prior to separating from the service, while members of the active component are required by law to receive a separation physical. Rahall said the separation physicals provide a vital record for the VA to use in establishing a service-connected disability and reflect injuries that may not have been readily identifiable after reserve units are demobilized once returning from overseas.
“To my way of thinking, if a member of the Guard or Reserve is fit enough for the field of battle, then they sure as heck are fit enough for a field of medical tests,” Rahall said. “The men and women who volunteer to serve in the Guard and Reserve are given a medical examination to determine their eligibility for service, and so they should be afforded the same opportunity as their active-duty counterparts to document their physical condition and injuries upon leaving the service. Fair is fair and right is right when it comes to taking care of those who have sacrificed so much for the rest of us.”
The proposed legislation has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion, and the National Guard Association of the United States. It has been referred to the House Armed Services Committee for consideration.
Representatives from the VA Hospital Homeless Department, Social Security Administration, WorkForce WV, Department of Health and Human Resources, Veterans Affairs, LPN students and rural health nurses, and other vendors attended the event.
— Charles Owens is a writer for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph