Hearing: Economic Opportunity and Transition Legislation Pending Before the Veterans Affairs Committee
















Hearing: Economic Opportunity and Transition Legislation  

Pending Before the Veterans Affairs Committee  



WASHINGTON, D.C.                                                                                          June 13, 2012  




On behalf of the more than 2 million men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify on today’s pending legislation. With the conflict in Iraq drawing to a close, withdrawal from Afghanistan on the horizon, and proposals to scale back our nation’s active duty military, the VFW believes economic opportunity for today’s war-fighters is a national imperative that continues to demand the kind of decisive action we saw with last year’s passage of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. Recent unemployment numbers indicate that veterans of the current conflicts remain unemployed at a higher rate than their civilian counterparts, with young veterans and female veterans have experienced unemployment rates well over twice the national average in the last year. The VFW is encouraged to see that this committee continues to take this situation seriously, and we are honored to share our thoughts on today’s bills in an effort ensure our veterans have the opportunities they have earned to succeed in a cut-throat economy after leaving military service.  


S. 1184, Debarment for Misrepresented Veteran Businesses:  


The VFW has consistently called for improved oversight on businesses claiming to be owned and controlled by veterans and service disabled veterans. Too often we have heard that businesses skirt federal regulations to take advantage of potentially lucrative set-aside contracts for veteran-owned business ventures. Unfortunately, penalties for misrepresenting your small business entity are entirely too relaxed to discourage nefarious practices. With this in mind, the VFW is proud to support a minimum of five year debarment from federal contracts for small businesses that misrepresent themselves as veteran-owned or service disabled veteran-owned small businesses.  


S. 1314, Establishing DVOP/LVER Geographic Funding Thresholds:  


The VFW supports the intent of this bill to revisit the funding model for Disabled Veterans Outreach Program specialists, or DVOPS, and Local Veterans Employment Representatives, or LVERs, but we have serious concerns about unintended consequences for the proposed guidelines on how Department of Labor would establish minimum state thresholds. The VFW believes this bill could swing the pendulum too far in favor of large geographic states, diverting too many resources away from population centers that may need them. VFW members have consistently supported the concept of DVOP and LVER staffing grants, rather than the current correlation between unemployed veterans as a segment of the population, as reflected in our national resolutions. We invite the committee to further deliberate on this issue by hosting a roundtable discussion with stakeholders from the veterans’ community and state workforce agencies to develop a responsible solution.  


S. 1634, Restoring State Approving Agency Authority:  


The VFW supports this bill, which would restore state approving agency, or SAA, authority to approve and disapprove G.I. Bill-eligible programs in every state. Under P.L. 111-377, the SAAs were stripped of their authority to approve certain kinds of schools and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs was granted additional authority to monitor programs. This change has resulted in diverting SAA resources to assist VA in financial compliance surveys, rather than program quality control. This change to the SAAs’ mission has lowered the quality of services delivered to veterans. In light of recent reports on the state of student-veterans in higher education, the VFW asks the committee to not only pass this bill, but to also revisit the role of SAAs by hosting a hearing or roundtable discussion to understand how this tremendous resource could be best utilized in the 21st century.   


S. 1798, Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011:  


Open-air burn pits were used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan to incinerate everything from medical supplies to automobiles, with possible hidden and grave health reactions on the military personnel exposed to them. VA, DOD, and other partners in the civilian sector are working to give us the tools necessary to properly diagnose and treat the conditions associated with open-air burn pits and other exposures to environmental hazards. However, much work remains to be done, and any delay means less than optimal treatment options now. In addition to working to treat these conditions, the Veteran Benefits Administration must continue to improve their ability to account for their effects when evaluating claims, and DOD could make a greater effort. The VFW believes that by allowing service members to go on record with VA at the earliest possible time will help VA deploy advances in medicine and technology as they become available to treat the serious conditions associated with burn pit exposure. We know that the physical effects of environmental exposures can go unnoticed for decades, and it can be extraordinarily difficult to establish causation to military service that has long since passed. This legislation is a positive step forward, and we ask the committee to pass this measure without delay.   


S. 1852, Spouses of Heroes Education Act:  


The Marine Gunnery Sgt. John D. Fry Scholarship Program offers the surviving children of fallen service members the opportunity to earn a quality education. This bill would expand Fry Scholarship opportunities to surviving spouses and the VFW is proud to support this initiative. Military spouses often must sacrifice careers of their own to support the service obligations of their loved ones. By extending this kind of educational opportunity to a surviving spouse, we demonstrate our commitment to serving not only the service member, but also the one ones they may leave behind.  


S. 1859, TSA/FAA Agency Status for Veterans Preference:  


The VFW supports this bill, which will close a loophole whereby Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, and the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, are not considered “federal agencies” for the purposes of preference-eligible redress for potential veteran employees. At a time when unemployment of Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans far outpaces unemployment among civilians, we have an obligation to ensure that veterans receive quality career opportunities. We also believe that the federal government should serve as the example of a model employer. Both TSA and FAA can stand to benefit by closing this loophole by ensuring their potential veteran employees receive the hiring preferences we have promised to them.  


S. 2130, Veterans Conservation Corps Authorization Act:  


In 2010, the VFW supported the concept of a Veteran Conservation Corps as part of a broader veterans’ employment initiative before this committee. We continue to support this concept, which would offer opportunities to veterans who do not participate in other federal training programs to work preserving national parks, monuments and other infrastructure projects. At a time when veterans have been hit disproportionately hard by tough economic times, this is just one more step to help veterans get back to work and acquire the kinds of skills that will make them competitive in the jobs market.  


S. 2179, S. 2206, S. 2241, Veterans’ Education Reform Legislation:  


The VFW supports each of these bills designed to ensure that military and veterans’ education programs provide service members and veterans with the opportunity to acquire critical job skills in a harsh economic climate. To the VFW, we believe each of these bills contain strong provisions that could offer the framework for a comprehensive veterans’ education bill, designed to offer improved consumer protections to student-veterans and improved accountability for schools participating in military and veterans’ education programs, while continuing to offer veterans choice in the academic marketplace.  


In S. 2179, the VFW supports the notion that degree-granting schools should participate in Title IV. However, we would hope to see assurances that religious-based schools that choose not to participate in Title IV would have an opportunity to continue to participate in G.I. Bill programs. We also support the idea of revisiting the role of State Approving Agencies, or SAAs, but believe this concept merits further discussion before this committee to develop a solution that best serves the needs of student-veterans.  


In S. 2206, we believe that front-end consumer education on an “opt-out” basis will ensure that all student-veterans have reasonable access to educational and vocational counseling resources available to them under Chapter 36 or title 38. We also believe that codifying a formal complaint process for student-veterans will ensure accountability of the benefit within VA and offer clear redress mechanisms for student-veterans who believe they have been victims of fraud, waste or abuse.  


In S. 2241, we support improving data collection from schools participating in G.I. Bill and military education programs to ensure that student-veterans have relevant information from which to make an educational choice and to demonstrate student-veteran success in higher education. We have heard anecdotally from VA that student-veterans remain enrolled at higher rates than their civilian counterparts, but we have little additional data to back this up. Chairman Murray’s bill also lifts the cap on Chapter 3697A education counseling, which the VFW believes has long tied VA’s hands in its ability to deliver quality educational counseling.  


The VFW applauds Chairman Murray, Senator Webb and Senator Lautenberg for each taking the issue of student-veteran success very seriously. We are pleased that each of these bills offers unique solutions to the problem and that this committee has decided to host a hearing on this critical issue. We believe that given the wealth of ideas, that the committee should build a comprehensive piece of legislation that includes ideas from each of these bills. The VFW has consistently taken the lead in building consensus among higher education stakeholders and the veterans’ community on this issue, and we look forward to working with this committee to develop a package that meets the needs of today’s student-veterans.  


S. 2246, TAP Modernization Act of 2012:  


As the debate on whether or not to mandate participation in the military’s transition assistance program (TAP) unfolded, the VFW learned that many service members on active duty failed to understand why they would need to participate in the program. However, once service members left the military, many wondered why they never received comprehensive training and information on how to access their earned benefits and successfully transition from military to civilian life. Unfortunately, a veteran has no way to reasonably anticipate all of the challenges he or she may face once out of the military, which is why the VFW believes TAP resources must be available to veterans after they have transitioned off of active duty. The VFW supports H.R. 4051 and its pilot program to offer off-base TAP to communities where veterans have been hit disproportionately hard by difficult economic times.  


S. 2299, Servicemembers Rights Enforcement Improvement Act of 2012:  


The VFW fully supports this bill, which will strengthen USERRA and SCRA protections for service members and their families. Recent reports have shown that some banks choose to shirk their legal obligations under SCRA, foreclosing on military families, while service members are deployed overseas. S. 2299 closes this loophole once and for all. In the years since 9/11, we have also seen a precipitous rise in USERRA complaints. Unfortunately, many veterans simply move on from their complaints, rather than waiting for Department of Justice to take action. This bill streamlines the process and still allows DOJ to take action without the pursuit of the veteran. This will give USERRA teeth and demonstrate to employers that we take this law seriously.  


S. 3179, Servicemember Housing Protection Act of 2012:  


The VFW proudly supports this bill. In a time of war, and when a large portion of our fighting force is being drawn from the National Guard and Reserve, every protection must be taken to ensure their lives are not further complicated by financial worries while they are deployed and once they return home. This bill offers more protection and piece-of-mind for active duty personnel and their loved ones who may need financial protection by making it easier for personnel to claim deployment-related financial and credit protections, extending foreclosure protections to surviving spouses, and allowing service members to terminate lease agreements without penalty when on-base housing becomes available.  


S. 3233,Servicemembers Access to Justice Act of 2012:  


The VFW supports this bill, which not only seeks to ensure that companies cannot force veterans to waive their reemployment rights as a condition of employment, but also streamlines processes through which veterans can take action against non-compliant employers. This bill also improves outreach and education to companies that do business with the federal government and to small businesses, informing them of their obligations under USERRA.  


S. 3236, Servicemember Employment Protection Act of 2012:  


This bill affirms the VFW’s long-held belief that USERRA precludes an employer from forcing service members to sign into binding arbitration agreements, basically forfeiting their employment and reemployment rights. This bill will allow service members to continue to pursue redress through the courts, while preserving the option to enter into an arbitration agreement after a dispute arises. This bill also ensures that treatment for service-connected medical conditions will be treated as “service in the uniformed services” for the purposes of USERRA, ensuring that employers cannot take negative action against an employee seeking treatment for the wounds of war. This bill also ensures that businesses that willingly violate USERRA will be barred from doing business with the federal government. The VFW is proud to support this bill.