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 Stuzman, Ranking Member Bilirakas, 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 by the Subcommittee. 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 as they transition successfully back to the civilian world.
PVA supports H.R. 3329, legislation to extend the eligibility period for vocational rehabilitation programs from the current length of twelve years to the proposed length of fifteen years. Today’s regulations require veterans to apply for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) services within 12 years of the date of their military separation or upon notification by VA of a service-connected disability rating conferring eligibility. Although many veterans may not understand their eligibility or the value of VR&E services, other veterans who are initially eligible may not need the services until after the 12-year delimiting period has expired. Some service-connected injuries will have an aggravated effect on the veteran as they get older. This could create limitations on employment functions that a veteran once had at a younger age. Although the veteran still has the economic need and the desire to continue employment, their service-connected disability will require the veteran to modify or learn new employment skills.
Although PVA supports H.R.3329, The Independent Budget (IB), co-authored by PVA, AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, believes the time limit for accessing VR&E programs should be eliminated entirely. In fact, the FY 2013 edition of the IB recommends that Congress eliminate the 12-year delimiting period for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services to ensure that veterans with employment barriers or problems with independent living qualify for services for the entirety of their employable lives.
H.R. 3483, the “Veterans Education Equity Act of 2011”
PVA supports H.R. 3483, the” Veterans Educational Equity Act of 2011.” This bill would change the existing law that allows for more educational funds to veterans who are enrolled in private colleges than those in public institutions. The current law unintentionally burdens some veterans by requiring them to pay additional fees not provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill when attending some out-of-state public institutions. Many veterans that qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill do not live in their original home state. When these veterans attend a local institution they are penalized with a much higher tuition as an out-of-state student. This legislation will also allow the veteran to receive up to $17,500 in educational benefits; however, if the in-state tuition exceeds $17,500, this legislation would provide payment for the total tuition. Passage of H.R. 3483 will allow veterans to focus on obtaining their education without worrying about which state they must live in to avoid excessive unreimbursed tuition fees.
H.R. 3524, the “Disabled Veterans Employment Protection Act”
PVA supports H.R. 3524, the “Disabled Veterans Employment Protection Act.” Of the men and women that have honorably served both at home and abroad, many are exiting military service with lifelong injuries or disabling conditions as a result of their service. Unfortunately, some employers have discriminated against these men and women as they must take time away from work to address their medical problems. PVA supports this legislation that will protect those veterans that must take time away from work to attend to their service-connected injuries or medical conditions. We would also note that many of the same protections are already afforded to any individual with a disability under the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
H.R. 3610, the “Streamlining Workforce Development Programs Act”
PVA opposes the provisions of H.R. 3610, the “Streamlining Workforce Development Programs Act.” At first glance, this legislation appears to be a response to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that identified 47 job training programs throughout the federal government that seemingly overlap or provide similar services. However, viewing these programs as simply duplicative and redundant undervalues the nature of many of these programs and ignores the full scope of objectives of these programs and the populations of people in this country that they serve.
H.R. 3610 would consolidate 33 of those programs outlined in the GAO report into what are described as four “flexible” funds. These funds include:
- Workforce Investment Fund providing job training services to adults, youth, unemployed workers;
- State Youth Workforce Investment Fund focused on disadvantaged youth to encourage school completion;
- Veterans Workforce Investment Fund for employment services to veterans; and,
- Targeted Populations Workforce Investment Fund to assist ex-offenders, refugees, migrant and seasonal farmworkers and Native Americans.
Additionally, the legislation would require the development of common performance measures for all employment and job training programs and would give states greater flexibility in determining workforce system service areas.
PVA has the unique perspective of examining the proposed legislation both through the lens of a veterans’ service organization as well as an organization that serves the broader community of people with disabilities. First, we oppose this legislation viewing it from the perspective of the disability community. While it seems that the legislation proposes to shore up some requirements of state workforce plans—plans which state governors are required to submit to the Department of Labor in order to receive funding under this legislation—to directly address the employment training and job placement needs of people with disabilities, it is unclear how those individuals with the most significant disabilities, such as PVA members with catastrophic spinal cord injury, would fare under this system. It is particularly troubling that this bill eliminates Title VI of the Rehabilitation Act—the Supported Employment program—created specifically for those individuals with the most severe disabilities who often face the greatest challenges in obtaining and retaining employment. Too often, under broad, generic job training programs, those who are hardest to serve become casualties of the performance measurement system.
Second, we oppose this legislation viewed from the perspective of the veterans’ community. We appreciate the fact that the bill eliminates the weaker phrasing of state plan provisions in current law that only requires “an assurance that veterans will be afforded the employment and training activities by the State to the extent practicable” and instead requires these activities to be “in accordance with the Jobs for Veterans Act.” Presumably, this provision is intended to draw the attention of state workforce plan developers to the specific requirements of the Jobs for Veterans Act. However, H.R. 3610 excepts sections 4103A and 4104 of title 38—the provisions that govern the Disabled Veteran Outreach Program (DVOP) and Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVER) from the above stated provision. Of great concern is that the bill actually repeals the DVOP and LVER sections from law altogether.
It appears that funds in the newly consolidated Veterans Workforce Investment Fun would be used to hire “one or more local veterans’ employment representatives to carry out employment, training, and placement services.” Local workforce areas would be required to give preference in hiring to service disabled veterans, veterans or if none of the above are available to anyone with expertise in serving veterans. These staff would be “administratively responsible” to the director of the one stop center.
In addition to repealing the DVOP and LVER programs, H.R. 3610 also repeals the Veterans Workforce Investment Program included in the Workforce Investment Act, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) as well as employment and job training assistance under Section 1144 of Title 10. The underlying assumption of these repeals seems to be that these are duplicative and redundant programs identified by the GAO report and thus can be dealt with under the four consolidated workforce investment funds. However, we would highlight the fact that the HVRP is perhaps the most cost-effective, cost-efficient program in the federal government. Every year the HVRP is funded well-below its authorized level, and yet, its outcomes reflect great success in serving homeless veterans.
H.R. 3610 takes a broad swipe at consolidating programs deemed to be “unnecessary and duplicative.” Unfortunately, the bill flatly ignores the fact that many of these programs are the best option available for veterans and people with disabilities.
PVA supports H.R. 3670, legislation to protect the employment and reemployment rights of veterans and members of the Guard and Reserve who have taken time away from employment to fulfill their obligation to the nation. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) was passed to protect the men and women that take time away from their place of employment to fulfill their military obligations. Every day veterans of the current conflict return to their home communities and to their jobs they left because of the protection provided by USERRA.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created in the wake of 9/11 to strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation system. In the rapid assembly and deployment of the TSA to provide needed transportation security, some of the existing federal requirements were waived to expedite the formation of this new agency. The protection of workers provided by USERRA was one of those federal requirements. It is unfortunate that this federal agency has grown to more than 50,000 employees and is not required to comply with USERRA. As a result we have veterans that are returning from protecting their country (some in harm’s way) and are not allowed to return to their chosen careers in the TSA. Perhaps the exclusion of federal requirements was necessary in order to rapidly stand up this agency in 2002, but it makes no sense to allow the agency to continue to be exempt from USERRA. PVA supports this legislation that will ensure that veterans have a job to return to after serving their nation.
H.R. 4048, “Improving Contracting Opportunities for Veteran-Owned small Businesses Act of 2012”
PVA supports H.R. 4048, the “Improving Contracting Opportunities for Veteran-Owned Small Business Act of 2012.” This legislation would ensure that proper priorities outlined in title 38 U.S.C, §8127 are followed when the VA chooses to initiate a contract under the Federal Supply Schedule. PVA has long been a proponent of contracting preference being provided to service-disabled veteran-owned and veteran-owned small businesses. This preference should be applied in any contracting activity that the VA conducts.
H.R. 4051, the “TAP Modernization Act of 2012”
PVA supports H.R. 4051, the “TAP Modernization Act of 2012.” This legislation would require the Department of Labor (DOL) to conduct the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) training off military bases in locations away from current locations that have traditionally offered TAP. This legislation could prove particularly beneficial for Guard and Reserve members that are returning to their communities away from mobilization stations and major military installations after their deployment. A large number of these veterans are from rural areas and do not have the access to support programs for veterans that would be available in metropolitan areas. Additionally, not every Guard and Reserve member has had the benefit of the broad array of information that is provided through the TAP program. This legislation would require a three-year pilot program to be presented in three to five states selected by the VA. Considering the current unemployment rate of veterans, we believe that it is imperative that the VA make an effort to provide this service in five states. This effort will be evaluated by the Comptroller General to determine its value with assisting unemployed veterans.
The expansion of TAP through this legislation would also coincide with the roll-out of the new version of TAP by the DOL’s Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS). After twenty years of presenting the same basic TAP program, VETS, in coordination with the VA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have created a new TAP to ensure its relevance and compatibility to today’s job market. This new TAP is currently being evaluated after being tested in several locations and will be in use nationwide in 2013. Taking a new TAP program out to areas away from major cities or military bases will reach a new audience of veterans that critically need all information pertaining to support, programs and opportunities currently available for veterans.
H.R. 4052, the “Recognizing Excellence in Veterans Education Act of 2013”
PVA does not oppose H.R. 4052, the “Recognizing Excellence in Veterans Education Act of 2013.”
PVA supports H.R. 4057, legislation to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop a comprehensive policy to improve outreach and transparency for effectively informing veterans about educational and vocational counseling opportunities and requires VA to create a central means for tracking feedback about the quality of higher education institutions. It also instructs the VA to examine the best ways in which state approving agencies share information about their evaluations of institutions of higher learning and the manner in which information about these institutions is provided to TAP participants. Finally, it requires the VA to include in this policy the most effective way to provide veterans and members of the military with information regarding postsecondary education and training opportunities available to them. The need for transparency of this information along with outreach to the veteran by the VA is critical.
Although the VA should not be providing information to influence specific choices the veteran may make for their future, many educational and training programs are aggressively pursuing the veteran often with misleading promises. Without the latest information readily available and presented to veterans explaining the relevancy and the successful outcomes from the wide range of available career programs, veterans could make decisions that could be detrimental to their future success. However, this effort will require additional designated funding in order for it to receive priority in the VA. Without funding, it could become another attempt to help veterans that never materializes.
H.R. 4072, the “Consolidating Veteran Employment Services for Improved Performance Act of 2012”
PVA supports H.R. 4072, the “Consolidating Veterans Employment Services for Improved Performance Act of 2012.” The proposed legislation would shift the organization and responsibilities of the Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) out of DOL and into the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Additionally, the legislation would consolidate the duties of the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists and the Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVER) into a single veterans employment representative. This legislation closely resembles a recommendation included in The Independent Budget for FY 2012. The IB states:
In order to achieve better outcomes for veterans, all veterans’ programs designed to enhance economic security, such as those focused on employment, education, and business assistance, should be centralized into a single new administration inside the Department of Veterans Affairs.
While the IB recommendation called for this alignment to be commensurate with the three administrations within VA, we support the plan outlined in this legislation that would place principle control for VETS under the Veterans Benefits Administration.
Both Congress and the Administration have demonstrated their concern for the employment of veterans. With new initiatives from federal agencies to assist veterans, and directions from the Administration to address unemployment among veterans, veterans still maintain an unemployment rate several percentage points above the national average. Combining the federal government’s efforts to assist veterans with employment, entrepreneurship, career counseling, and education and training programs should create a synergistic effect and at the same time eliminate any duplication of programs. This will maximize the combined federal effort and as one united effort, should be easier to monitor results and make necessary modifications in programs if needed. Ultimately, the move of VETS to the VA will ensure that veterans receive the highest priority in these employment, education and training programs.
Once again, PVA would like to thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed legislation. We appreciate the strong focus that the Subcommittee has placed on expanding opportunities for success of veterans in education, the workforce, and the business community.
Information Required by Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives
Pursuant to Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives, the following information is provided regarding federal grants and contracts.
Fiscal Year 2012
No federal grants or contracts received.
Fiscal Year 2011
Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation — National Veterans Legal Services Program— $262,787.
Fiscal Year 2010
Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation—National Veterans Legal Services Program— $287,992.