Congressman Chris Pappas, D-N.H.

Congressman Chris Pappas, D-N.H.

WASHINGTON — A bill to be introduced Wednesday in Congress would order the Department of Veterans Affairs to add LGBTQ veterans to its Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans.

A bipartisan group of senators will introduce the Voices for Veterans Act, which would change the makeup of the committee that advises the VA on issues affecting minority veterans. The committee was established by federal law in 1994. The law calls for a committee that is made up of Asian American, Black, Hispanic, Native American and Pacific-Islander veterans.

The Voices for Veterans Act demands that LGBTQ veterans be part of the committee.

"As things stand, the needs of LGBTQ+ veterans are often overlooked," Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said in a statement. "This bipartisan legislation will expand the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to ensure our LGBTQ+ veterans have a voice and will receive the care and support they have earned."

Klobuchar will introduce the Senate bill with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Reps. Suzan Delbene, D-Wash., and Chris Pappas, D-N.H., will introduce the House version.

The purpose of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans is to provide recommendations, concerns and observations to the VA secretary and Congress about the department's delivery of services to minority veterans. Committee members make periodic site visits to VA facilities and hold town hall meetings with veterans to hear their concerns.

"Our country must ensure all our veterans have equal access to the care, benefits, and services they have earned for their sacrifice and service, regardless of who they are or who they love," DelBene said in a statement.

According to Disabled Veterans of America, a national veterans' organization, there are about 1 million LGBTQ veterans in the United States.

The Government Accountability Office reported last year that the VA was not collecting data from veterans about sexual orientation or gender identity. The lack of data could mean that VA doctors are missing medical trends in this population of veterans, the GAO said.

Shortly after VA Secretary Denis McDonough was sworn into office in February, he issued a review of VA policies to determine how to make the agency a more welcoming and inclusive place for LGBTQ veterans and employees.

The review falls in line with an executive order President Joe Biden signed during his first day as president. He directed the head of each federal agency to assess whether underserved communities face barriers at those departments.

The results of the VA review had not been shared as of Tuesday.

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