WASHINGTON -- The Senate approved a $500 million package of veterans benefits yesterday, virtually guaranteeing that Persian Gulf war veterans will get retroactive pay raises for their time in the region.
But the five-year plan -- negotiated with a cost-conscious Bush administration -- is less than half of what the House has voted to provide, and less than many senators had hoped to do.
The package was part of legislation authorizing emergency funding for Operation Desert Storm, which passed 97-1. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, R-Ore., voted against it because, his
office said, he also voted against authorizing the president to go to war.
"It does not preclude further legislation as we see the need arise," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who helped draft the compromise.
An aide to Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, chairman of a task force on veterans issues, said other proposed benefits would be taken up later as separate legislation.
Veterans groups, while welcoming the recognition accorded to the Persian Gulf troops, pointed out that neither the House nor the Senate bill would erase a five-year, $3.7 billion cut in veterans spending put into effect last fall.
Administration officials have threatened a veto of the $1.2 billion House bill, saying it would cost too much and provide too many benefits to veterans who did not actually serve in the gulf theater.
Like the House version, the Senate bill would raise imminent danger pay from $110 to $150 per month, effective Aug. 1, 1990. It also would double the $3,000 gratuity paid to survivors of those killed in the line of duty, effective Jan. 16, the day the war started.
In a concession to the House, the Senate bill would increase GI Bill education benefits for all veterans, a move the administration had adamantly opposed. But where the House proposes to raise the basic educational benefit for those who
served on active duty from $300 to $400 a month, the Senate bill calls for a $10 increase.
A House-Senate conference committee will meet soon to reconcile differences between the two bills.
The Senate bill also would:
* Double the current $50,000 maximum coverage under Servicemen's Group Life Insurance.
* Permit reservists called up to active duty to defer payment on Small Business Administration
* Extend the veterans home loan program to reservists who were called up for 90 to 180 days of active duty.
* Provide two months of health care coverage for reservists returning to active duty.
* Allocate $20 million to help families of active-duty troops cover child-care costs and $30 million for educational and family-support services.