By Laura Gersony

U.S. Reps. Raúl Grijalva and Greg Stanton ahead of Veterans Day have each announced legislation geared toward helping U.S. military veterans receive benefits they earned through military service.

Grijalva, D-Ariz., has introduced a bill that would prevent the deportation of veterans and ensure access to Department of Veterans Affairs benefits for those who have already been deported.

A 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office found that the U.S.-led immigration agency does not consistently track the number of veterans who have been deported. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who has introduced a partner bill in the Senate, has estimated the U.S. deported or issued removal orders for hundreds of veterans from 2013 to 2018.

“We as a nation have a responsibility to keep the promises we made to care for our service men and women in return for their sacrifices, including creating a clear process for naturalization,” Grijalva said in a written statement.

The bill, the Veterans Visa and Protection Act, would prohibit the deportation of immigrant veterans who are not violent offenders, provide a pathway to citizenship for military veterans, and help ensure that veteran immigrants who have already been deported are able to access VA benefits.

Eighteen Democratic lawmakers have endorsed the measure, according to the news release. The bill would need Republican support to make it through the GOP-controlled House.

Most House Republicans voted against a similar measure when it was brought to a vote in 2022.

Grijalva has periodically introduced legislation on this topic since 2016.

Modernizing a VA benefits database

Also leading up to Veterans Day, Stanton, D-Ariz., announced a proposal that aims to improve a database used to track VA-licensed professionals who can help veterans navigate their benefits.

The VA requires individuals to be accredited in order to help veterans with benefits claims. Stanton’s office said staff members called 100 phone numbers listed in the VA’s database as licensed providers in Arizona, and that less than half were accredited and practicing.

“Antiquated systems at the VA have made it needlessly difficult for veterans to find and contact accredited claims agents,” Stanton is quoted as saying. “I’m proud to introduce legislation to modernize the VA’s accreditation information.” 

Stanton’s bill would require the VA to update the database annually, create a certification symbol for licensed individuals, and submit an annual report to Congress about the licensing and database upkeep process.

The nonprofit Housing Assistance Council has estimated there are about 470,000 veterans living in Arizona, making up close to 9% of all adults in the state.

'This is not an immigration issue':Once deported, this veteran is fighting to bring others home

Marking Veterans Day, other Arizona lawmakers touted veteran-related legislation they had worked on over the past year. In a news release, U.S. Rep. Juan Ciscomani, R-Ariz., noted that he has introduced five such bills in the past year, two of which have passed. 

Likewise, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., a veteran who himself suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, introduced a bill earlier this year geared toward protecting veterans’ disability pay.

On the other side of Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., has introduced a bill promoting a VA program that helps veterans access home loans, and another that opposes VA-proposed cuts to ambulance reimbursement rates.