By Kate Sullivan and Betsy Klein, CNN
President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law four bills aimed at supporting the nation’s veterans, including legislation intended to combat racial disparities related to benefits as well as addressing maternal mortality among female veterans.
“We have many obligations, but we only have one truly sacred obligation, in my view. And that is prepare those we send into harm’s way, care for their families when they’re gone and care for them and their families when they’re home,” Biden said at the bill signing event. “And that’s a lifetime commitment.”
One bill directs the Government Accountability Office to study whether there are disparities associated with race and ethnicity when it comes to Veterans Affairs compensation benefits, disability ratings and rejections of claims for benefits. Another directs the VA to recruit military medical personnel to work in federal health care occupations.
The third bill is aimed at reducing out-of-pocket education costs for surviving spouses and children of military veterans, and another piece of legislation is geared toward addressing maternal mortality among female veterans by authorizing $15 million for the VA maternity care coordination programs.
“We’ve heard from veterans of color, who upon returning home from their service, are treated differently from white veterans. This bill will help us understand how this happened, keep better records, expose the facts of the light of day and allow us to do the necessary work making sure that all of our nation’s veterans — all of them — are treated with equal dignity and equal quality throughout their entire time,” Biden said ahead of the bill signing.
Biden noted the Protecting Moms Who Served Act of 2021 was championed by Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who is a US Army veteran who lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq, as well as Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and others. Duckworth is the first female double-amputee to serve in the Senate and was also the first senator to give birth while in office.
Biden also noted the legislation was one of Vice President Kamala Harris’ “pet projects” when she was a senator.
“Our country continues to have the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world … especially among Black and Native American women. For many years, Vice President Harris has led the fight to address this tragedy in maternal mortality in our nation,” Biden said.
The President was joined at the White House by Harris, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough, members of Congress and advocates.
“Earlier this month, I commemorated Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery. On that solemn day, we lay a wreath and renew our oath,” Biden said. “But keeping faith with American veterans required much more than laying wreaths or making more oaths. It requires acts. That’s what you’ve done today, all of you. Acts.”
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