Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Submission For The Record of Paralyzed Veterans of America
Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and members of the Subcommittee, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), thanks you for the opportunity to submit a statement for the record regarding the proposed legislation being considered today. PVA appreciates the fact that you are addressing these important issues that affect the economic wellbeing of veterans. We support your effort to help these men and women that have honorably served their nation transition successfully back to the civilian world.
PVA supports H.R.120, legislation that would modify the existing housing loan program for veterans which provides a loan guarantee by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This bill would expand the program to include the surviving spouse of a veteran who was 100 percent service-connected disabled if the disability was so rated for 10 years preceding death; the disability was so rated for 5 years since the veteran’s discharge, or the veteran was a former prisoner of war who died after September 30, 1999, and the disability was so rated for at least 1 year preceding death.
PVA supports H.R. 240, which would promote employment for veterans in the current unfavorable employment market. This bill insures more veteran owned businesses receive consideration for government contracts. Veteran owned businesses tend to employ more veterans that nonveteran owned businesses. This would require VA contracting officers to award contracts to veteran owned small businesses through the use of sole source contracting. The use of the sole source contracting policy would result in contracts to veteran owned businesses that would exceed the minimal requirement of three percent.
PVA supports H.R.1263, legislation to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to afford surviving spouses of servicemembers who die while in the military and whose death is service-connected the same protections against sale, foreclosure, and seizure of property currently applicable to their husbands who while in the military service are unable to meet an obligation on real or personal property.
PVA supports H.R. 1911, the “Protecting Veterans’ Homes Act”. This bill would extend the current protection authorized by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act from the current time of 9 months to 12 months after military service. This protection would apply to the sale or foreclosure, as well as the stay of proceedings, in case of an obligation of real property of a servicemember that originated before the period of military service.
PVA supports H.R. 2274, which would require an annual report to Congress from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense providing detailed information on the usage of, and their future recommendations for the Post 9/11 GI Bill. This report will help identify the effectiveness of the current program to recruit and retain members of the Armed Forces. These motivating factors were taken into consideration when developing this benefit. The report should also help identify shortcomings in the program, which could include access to, or inadequate financial assistance. The report will also indicate the number of certificates, degrees, and completed programs the veterans and servicemembers have accomplished for each year. This information will document the success of the program for preparing these men and women to enter the civilian work force for current employment, or future employment after military service. This report will be a valuable tool for Congress as they make legislative changes to reshape the Post 9/11 GI Bill in the future.
PVA supports H.R. 2301, the “Streamlining Education Claims Processing Act of 2011.” Making this change in the payment schedule to educational instiutions will accommodate the changing educational class loads of the veterans resulting in the correct payment to the institution at the end of the educational session.
PVA does not have a position on H.R.2302, legislation that would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to notify Congress of conferences sponsored by the VA. We do question the value of this requirement. This would involve professional staff time to coordinate such events while complying with the advanced notification time, determining which events meet the criteria, tracking expenses, reporting expenses, and submitting reports to Congress. This seems to be an extreme example of Congress trying to micro-manage one of the largest agencies in the federal government. The goals of conferences sponsored by the VA are generally educational or to disseminate information applicable to carrying out its mission. This could include raising awareness of problems, or better methods or solutions to address issues within the VA. We feel the VA staff realize their agency must function within a limited budget which means they would be selective on topics and critical of the value of conferences they sponsor.
PVA supports H.R. 2345, a bill that would reauthorize the Paralympics program that has partnered with the VA to expand sports and recreation opportunities to disabled veterans and injured service members. We believe that this has certainly been a worthwhile program as the need for expansion of these activities is necessary. We appreciate the role that the Paralympics have played in this expansion.
However, as we expressed during original consideration of this program in 2008, we remain concerned about a general lack of transparency. We believe a better and more open explanation of what expansion efforts have actually taken place needs to be expressed. Additionally, as we testified in 2008, we believe that the grant review and approval process needs to be more open so that Congress as well as the American public can see how the money that has been authorized is being spent.
Lastly, further oversight needs to be conducted to ensure that administrative costs of these programs are being minimized. The original law mandated that no more than five percent of the Paralympics funding could support administrative costs and no more than 10 percent could support administrative costs for grant recipients. While we believe the Paralympics are doing a reasonable job of meeting this requirement, we are concerned that the VA General Counsel’s opinion on indirect versus direct costs could allow them to skirt the original intent of the legislation to hold down actual administrative costs. We would encourage the Subcommittee to investigate this further.
PVA supports H.R. 2329, the “Ensuring a Response for Servicemembers Act”. This places increasing requirements on lending institutions that benefit from conducting business with servicemembers. They would be required to establish a compliance officer for providing information to servicemembers and in addition, depending on assets of the institution, required to establish a toll-free telephone number to address problems with servicemembers’ accounts. This will help address some problems of the lack of communication with institutions that have been reported in past hearings dealing with servicemembers conducting business with lending institutions.
Mr. Chairman, Paralyzed Veterans of America appreciates this opportunity to express our views on these issues. We look forward to working with the Subcommittee on these and other issues in the future.
Information Required by Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives
Fiscal Year 2011
Pursuant to Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives, the following information is provided regarding federal grants and contracts.
Fiscal Year 2011
Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation — National Veterans Legal Services Program— $300,000 (estimated).
Fiscal Year 2010
Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation—National Veterans Legal Services Program— $287,992.
Fiscal Year 2009
Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation — National Veterans Legal Services Program— $296,687.