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Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent, is the sponsor of a major veterans funding bill. / Jacquelyn Martin, AP

What has been characterized as the most sweeping veterans legislation in decades should reach the Senate floor for a vote Tuesday afternoon.

The legislation authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who chairs the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, contains more than 140 provisions and would cost $21 billion over 10 years.

With a long title - the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014 - the bill, among other things, includes restoring cost-of-living increases for future military retiree pensions and expanding Department of Veterans Affairs health care, by allowing the VA to acquire 27 new medical facilities and paying for reproductive services for 2,300 troops wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

It would expand compensation for family caregivers of disabled veterans - something now provided for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan - to families of veterans of all wars.

The bill's original cost was $31 billion over 10 years, but it is being amended to remove a section dealing with cost-of-living increases for current military pensions since that provision was recently passed into law in separate legislation.

Nearly all veteran organizations support Sanders' bill.

But it is not without controversy, variously described as landmark legislation necessary to serve every generation of America's 22 million veterans, and as a vehicle for politically embarrassing Republicans who may choose to vote against it because of how it's funded.

Sanders proposes to pay for his bill out of roughly $1 trillion the federal government would be allowed by law to spend fighting terrorism over the next 10 years. The current cost Sanders wants to cover is $17 billion.

"I would argue that if we put aside money for war, we are also putting aside money for those people hurt in those wars," Sanders said. "That's a very consistent and reasonable argument."

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the $1 trillion - known as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding - is a projected cost for 2014, when troops are still fighting in Afghanistan.

Republicans argue that President Obama intends to withdraw troops from Afghanistan at the end of this year and OCO funding will drop precipitously.

Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs committee, said there is "some excellent legislation" in Sanders' bill.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Senate to vote on sweeping veterans bill Tuesday

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