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President Joe Biden signs four bills into law Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, that affect veterans. One new law will invest $15 million to improve maternal health care for female veterans. 
President Joe Biden signs four bills into law Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, that affect veterans. One new law will invest $15 million to improve maternal health care for female veterans.  (Screenshot from the White House event)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a bill into law that invests $15 million to improve maternity care for female veterans.

The new law orders the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve its coordination with the community care facilities that provide maternity care to veterans, as well as offer childbirth preparation and parenting classes, nutrition counseling, lactation classes, breastfeeding support and breast pumps.

In addition, the law orders the Government Accountability Office to study maternal mortality among veterans, as well as negative health outcomes for women caused by labor and delivery. The study will focus on racial and ethnic disparities.

“This bill will commission a comprehensive study of maternal health challenges facing veterans and will invest in maternal care coordination programs at the VA,” Biden said before the bill signing. “It’s an important step in making sure we meet the needs of American mothers who have served.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Army veteran and mother, sponsored the bill titled the Protecting Moms Who Served Act. The bill is the first legislation to be signed into law that was part of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act, a group of 12 bills that aim to help improve the maternal mortality rate in the United States and end racial and ethnic disparities in maternal health outcomes.

The maternal mortality rate in the United States was 20.1 deaths per 100,000 births in 2019, and there were significantly more deaths in 2019 than 2018, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate was higher for Black women, who experienced 44 deaths per 100,000 births in 2019.

Biden acknowledged Tuesday that the United States continues to have the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world.

“I’m so proud that President Biden signed this bipartisan bill… which would help address our nation’s growing maternal mortality crisis by helping ensure the pregnancy complications of all women veterans are not overlooked or ignored,” Duckworth said in a statement.

In addition to the Protecting Moms Who Served Act, Biden signed three other bills Tuesday aimed at veterans.

One new law will require the Defense Department and VA to identify and recruit service members leaving the military who might be qualified for federal health care jobs.

Another bill requires the Government Accountability Office to determine whether there are any racial and ethnic disparities in regard to compensation benefits administered by the VA. The GAO will also look at whether there are disparities with disability ratings and rejected benefits claims.

Lastly, Biden signed the Colonel John M. McHugh Tuition Fairness for Survivors Act, which requires public colleges and universities to provide an in-state tuition rate for students using the Dependents Education Assistance. The program provides education benefits to the children and spouses of service members who are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related injury.

The bill affects about 150,000 dependents, said Bonnie Carroll, the president of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

Biden signed the bills during a White House ceremony, which was attended by VA Secretary Denis McDonough, representatives from veterans organizations and the lawmakers who wrote the bills.

“Keeping faith with American veterans requires much more than laying wreaths or making more oaths,” Biden said. “It requires acts. That’s what you’ve done today — all of you — acts. That’s why I'm so proud to sign these bills.”

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.
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