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Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner, Ranking Democratic Member, Full Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Thank you, Chairman Miller.

All too often we read about the results of veterans who come home - often with the invisible wounds of war –who can’t find the dignity and security that work provides.  We read about it in skyrocketing suicide statistics, problems at home, substance abuse, and even in rising homelessness among our veterans.

Today we are here to review H.R. 169, H.R. 1941, and H.R. 2433.  Each bill seeks to address the needs of our veterans.  H.R. 169 will require VA to highlight the VETSuccess site on its main internet page.  I support making the VA website as user friendly as possible.

I appreciate the Chairman’s efforts to make meaningful change in the lives of our veterans and their families with this legislation and his own bill – H.R. 2433 – The Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011.

But, I also think we need to be clear about what H.R. 2433 IS and what it IS NOT.  This bill IS NOT a jobs bill where veterans can go get a job -- instead it is a retraining bill.  This bill does very little to create jobs for veterans, regardless of how my Republican colleagues may portray it.  This bill IS about completely contracting out the Transition Assistance Program (TAP).  While I fully support widening the opportunities for our veterans by providing them additional skills, I also believe that we need to be realistic about our discussion and how we frame this bill.

Unemployment among veterans, and all of our citizens, is a national tragedy.  A recent article in the Los Angeles Times dated July 11, 2011, stated that “Unemployment among recently returned veterans, already in double digits, is poised to get worse as more soldiers return from Iraq and Afghanistan.”  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among Gulf War-era II veterans aged 18-24 was nearly 21 percent in 2010.

In order to pay for this legislation, this bill would extend higher loan fees on our veterans that utilize the VA Home Loan Guarantee Program and then use those monies to pay for the monthly stipend and retraining costs created by this bill. 

By not allowing the higher loan fee rates to expire to much lower rates and by extending the higher rates for 10 years we are effectively taxing a specific group of veterans for using a benefit.  The House Majority Leader, Mr. Cantor of Virginia, said on July 11, 2011, that “We don’t believe you ought to be raising taxes right now in this recession, in this economy [.]” 

If this is the belief of our colleagues, then we must be consistent in how we apply these beliefs.  If allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire was characterized as a tax increase, then not allowing these higher rates to expire can also be characterized as a tax increase.  We need to be crystal clear as to what we are doing, and say in plain language that we are raising taxes on veterans.

I want to be transparent about this “shell game” and how we are paying for it, so we are not back here later in this session or in following sessions talking about how we had some “unintended consequences” and we then have to find some way to pay for the pay-for.

Simply put, in order to pay for this bill, we will charge our veterans more for the use of their benefit in one program so we can pay for other veterans and their benefits in another program. 

In this economy where our national housing market is in the tank, where we, on this Committee, have worked so very hard to protect our veterans from home foreclosures, we must carefully weigh our actions and be sure that the actions we take are not going to make it more difficult for a veteran to purchase or keep a home.

But, we also consider today a viable alternative.  A bill that will require broad job skill training for all service members returning home.

H.R. 1941, a bill introduced by Mr. Bishop of Georgia which I have cosponsored, is the companion bill to Senator Murray’s S. 951.  This comprehensive bill requires service members to learn how to translate the skills they learned in the military into the working world.  It will also ensure that more veterans have jobs waiting for them when they leave the military by streamlining the path to private and Federal employment.

This bill requires the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training are translatable into the civilian sector, and work to make it simpler for our veterans to get the licenses and certification they need.

I fully support and endorse H.R. 1941.  The companion to this bill passed the Senate committee unanimously and my hope is that we will have the same result here in the House.  I believe, as does Chairwoman Murray, that this bill is a huge step forward in re-thinking the way we treat our men and women in uniform after they leave the military.

Finally, I have questions regarding all of the bills, as I am sure many of my colleagues do.  First, are these the policies we want to pursue?  What impact will extending these fees have on the housing market and the ability of our veterans to utilize the VA home loan program?  Why didn’t these bills follow the normal course of going to the subcommittee of jurisdiction and how much do they cost -- where are the CBO cost estimates?

I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle as we address these bills and other legislation that may assist our veterans in finding employment when their service is over.  

Thank you, and I yield back.