Vets bills could fall victim to fiscal cliff indecision

WASHINGTON – If lawmakers don’t return to town to finalize a fiscal cliff deal this week, the federal budget won’t be is only political casualty. A pair of veterans bills with broad support are also poised to fail without House action before Jan. 3.

The measures seemed headed for certain passage by the House before the Christmas break. But when Republican leaders abruptly ended session and sent lawmakers home, it left the proposals in legislative limbo.

The first is a veterans education bill requiring better information and counseling for college-bound servicemembers. The legislation has the backing of not only veterans advocates worried about college recruiting practices but also leaders of the for-profit college industry, making a rare point of agreement among the two in recent years.

The second is a grab-bag bill that would create a burn-pit registry to track veterans fighting respiratory ailments and other exposure illnesses, provide caskets for deceased homeless veterans, bar convicted sex offenders from being buried in veterans cemeteries, and provides new transition assistance programs for veterans and their spouses.

House staffers have said the measures should pass easily, but to do that representatives need to be called back into session. The Senate has already approved both bills.

If the measure's don't pass before the end of the congressional session, they'll have to wind through the legislative process all over again. That could take months, even with support from both parties.

Just before the holiday break, lawmakers finalized the annual defense authorization bill, which included provisions to help veterans get civilian certifications for their military skills and expanded suicide prevention programs for servicemembers and veterans.

Veterans groups called that an important step forward, but said failure to pass the other legislation would be an unneeded setback for the community.

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