Opening Statement of Hon. Bruce L. Braley, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
I’m very proud to have worked with this Committee to pass the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. I am optimistic this legislation is a step in the right direction for putting our veterans back to work. In August, I introduced the Combat Veterans Back to Work Act, which provided tax incentives to employers to hire veterans and recently returned service members. I am pleased that the VOW Act includes tax incentives for hiring veterans that I’ve been pushing for all year.
Additionally, in October, I joined Chairman Stutzman to host two field hearings – one in Iowa and one in Indiana – that focused on veterans’ unemployment. One of the things that came up at these hearings was the need to help returning service members translate their military skills to civilian skills, which is why I am pleased that the VOW Act includes veterans retraining. This will help ensure that they have the skills necessary to be competitive in today’s tough job market.
Section 211 of this bill, which focuses on retraining, has an implementation date of July, 2012. This new program will be very beneficial for older veterans that have exhausted their educational benefits or other available VA vocational programs. It is my hope that the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor have already begun discussions on how to jointly carry out this program and administer this section as scheduled. This interagency program will help change the lives of 99,000 unemployed veterans.
Section 233 of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides disabled veterans up to 12 months of additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) benefits. In the past we’ve had hearings and discussions surrounding VR&E counselor’s workload. During our March hearing we expressed our concerns with the VR&E veteran-to-counselor ratio of 1:136.
I I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on what steps will be taken to ensure that there is adequate staff at VR&E who are prepared to handle proper implementation of this section. I hope the VA is ready to discuss how they will prepare to handle additional workload without sacrificing the counseling services veterans need.