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Witness Testimony of MG Andrew “Drew” Davis, USMC (Ret.), Executive Director The Reserve Officers Association

The Reserve Officers Association of the United States (ROA) is a professional association of commissioned and warrant officers of our nation's seven uniformed services and their spouses.  ROA was founded in 1922 during the drawdown years following the end of World War I.  It was formed as a permanent institution dedicated to National Defense, with a goal to teach America about the dangers of unpreparedness.  When chartered by Congress in 1950, the act established the objective of ROA to: "...support and promote the development and execution of a military policy for the United States that will provide adequate National Security.”  

The Association’s 57,000 members include Reserve and Guard Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who frequently serve on Active Duty to meet critical needs of the uniformed services and their families.  ROA’s membership also includes commissioned officers from the U.S. Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who often are first responders during national disasters and help prepare for homeland security.

ROA is a member of The Military Coalition where it co-chairs the Guard and Reserve Committee. ROA is also a member of the National Military/Veterans Alliance and the Associations for America’s Defense. Overall, ROA works with 75 military, veterans, and family support organizations.

President:  Col. Walker Williams, USAF (Ret.)                      202-646-7706

Staff Contacts:

Executive Director:  Major General Andrew “Drew” Davis, USMC (Ret.)          202-646-7726

Legislative Director:  CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (Ret.)             202-646-7713

Air Force Director:   Col. Bill Leake, USAFR                     202-646-7713

Army and Strategic Defense Education Director:  Mr. “Bob” Feidler          202-646-7717

USNR, USMCR, USCGR:  CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (Ret.)             202-646-7713

Service Members’ Law Center Director:  CAPT Sam Wright, JAGC, USN (Ret.)     202-646-7730

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The Reserve Enlisted Association is an advocate for the enlisted men and women of the United States Military Reserve Components in support of National Security and Homeland Defense, with emphasis on the readiness, training, and quality of life issues affecting their welfare and that of their families and survivors.  REA is the only joint Reserve association representing enlisted reservists – all ranks from all five branches of the military.

Executive Director:  CMSgt Lani Burnett, USAF (Ret)                 202-646-7715

DISCLOSURE OF FEDERAL GRANTS OR CONTRACTS

The Reserve Officers and Reserve Enlisted Associations are member-supported organizations. Neither ROA nor REA have received grants, sub-grants, contracts, or subcontracts from the federal government in the past three years.  All other activities and services of the associations are accomplished free of any direct federal funding.

INTRODUCTION

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, the Reserve Officers Association (ROA) and the Reserve Enlisted Association (REA) would like to thank the subcommittee for the opportunity to testify.  ROA and REA applaud the ongoing efforts by Congress to address issues facing veterans and service members such as educational assistance programs, retraining assistance, solutions within the home loan programs, SCRA improvements, veteran homelessness and more.

After 12 years of war, the United States has creating a new generation of combat veterans that come from its Reserve Components (RC). It is important, therefore, that we don’t squander this valuable resource of experience, nor ignore the benefits that they are entitled to because of their selfless service to their country.  ROA and REA would like to thank the committee and staff for making numerous improvements that have been made to date.

PENDING LEGISLATION

Amending Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) for protection of property

In order to best support service members it is essential to also support the family. ROA and REA are thankful for the Department of Defense’s (DoD), the administration’s and Congressional acknowledgment that the military spouse is part of DoD’s mission.

ROA and REA encourage Congress to support H.R.821, introduced by Rep. Alan Grayson (Florida), which would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to provide surviving spouses with the same protections as serving members killed in the “line of duty” against sale, foreclosure and seizure of real and personal property.

Spouses of deceased veterans or serving member must cope with the loss of the spouse who served while also getting their finances back in order and adapting to life without a partner. These spouses, coping with the loss of a spouse who was a warrior, have made sacrifices for the United States and should receive similar protections.

The Associations also support H.R.1842, introduced by Rep. Elijah Cummings (Maryland) that permits courts to stay action against those serving in hostile fire areas, those convalescing or medically retired, or those who are surviving spouses from enforced obligations on real or personal property secured by mortgage.  It also treats non-resident abodes as eligible for refinancing as a residence should a serving member be forced to relocate.

Education Amendments

H.R.331, introduced by Rep. Ken Calvert (California), would include the Post 9/11 GI Bill and Post-Vietnam Veterans' Educational Assistance Program under the requirement for education institutions to report to the Secretary of Veteran Affairs about enrollments, interruptions or termination of the education.  ROA and REA concur that it is important to track the progress of veteran students.

Yet, returning veterans are often non-traditional students.  Reporting measures should be developed for non-traditional student performances as well as for full time students.  Before graduation the non-traditional student may leave and be re-admitted to a school several times, affected by priorities from current employment and family.   Attrition numbers can appear higher if an individual is not tracked.  The University Professional and Continuing Education Association found that 43 percent of institutions don’t have systems to track the retention of a non-traditional student through graduation.

Also, it should be remembered that over the last 12 years, students who are also in the Reserve and Guard have had to interrupt their studies when they were mobilized.  It is hoped that such an interruption is viewed as being positive toward the students’ reinstatement, rather than a down grade.  The Department of Education has worked closely with educational institutions over the last decade, improving credit and tuition adjustments.  In keeping with the spirit of cooperation established over the last decade, reported interruptions should not be held against either the student or the institution.

H.R.1357, introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson (Ohio), recognizes the non-traditional student by expanding the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 to cover “less than full-time basis if the program consists of at least 16 seat-time hours.”  While the Associations support this bill, ROA and REA suggest that in the future education credit should be based on competency rather than seat time.

Last March, the Department of Education took steps toward a more flexible and innovative financial aid system by allowing institutions of learning to award federal financial aid based on the amount of learning a student has achieved, rather than the amount of time he or she spend in classroom.  In 2005, Congress created this alternative path to federal financial aid; it took the Department of Education seven years to implement it.  ROA and REA hope that veteran education programs can adapt more rapidly.

H.R.2011, introduced by Rep. John Delaney (Maryland), would include Chapter 31 of Title 38 under the purview of the Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Education, and includes language to recognize the veterans of the Persian Gulf War, and post 9/11 contingency operations.  

Vocational rehab will be playing an important part of transitioning service connected disabled veterans back into the civilian life.  Providing veterans with the resources they need to pursue personal and professional self-improvement through education and job training helps them replace a lost sense of purpose and builds a resilience required to overcome their personal challenges.  The bill adds credence to this program that should also be extended into 2015.

Absent from the Advisory Committee’s review is Title 38 Chapter 1607, which is an outgrowth of Chapter 1606.  Selected Reservists who have taken advantage of the Montgomery GI Bill for Selected Reserve (Chapter 1606) when mobilized can get increased educational benefits under Chapter 1607.  ROA and REA hope that H.R. 2011 can be amended to include this Chapter 1607 as well.

H.R.2210, introduced by Rep. C.W. Bill Young (Florida) would expand the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship from individuals who die in the “line of duty” while on active duty to include those who were awarded the Purple Heart, but die within 60-days of the date of discharge or release from active duty service in the Armed Forces.  ROA and REA agree with recognizing of this group of heroes and that their families should be included under this scholarship.

However, ROA and REA would like to see the bill amended to ensure that Reserve and Guard members are included under the definition of “line of duty.” Reserve and Guard members serve under many different types of activation orders.  While other benefits are often identified for Reserve Component members as being on duty for 30 or more days, Reserve and Guard members have been sent into combat areas on missions of shorter duration on other than “active duty” orders.

Additionally, the Associations have a concern that US Code, as well as the amendment, limit this to just members of the Armed Forces.  ROA and REA recommend the language be changed to “uniformed service” as members of the US Public Health Service and the NOAA corps have served overseas in imminent danger zones in support of contingency operations.

H.R.1796, introduced by Rep. Tammy Duckworth (Illinois) directs the military secretaries to expand communications with serving members on civilian credentialing opportunities.  While credentialing is one of the topics now being included in the reformed Transition Assistance Program (TAP), the earlier this is addressed the better it is both the individual and the service.

There is an ongoing challenge on how to convert military skill sets into credited experience that would be recognized by civilian employers and provide longevity credit during a licensing or credentialing process.  Cross-licensing/credentialing would ease the burden of having to acquire new licenses/credentials in the private sector after separation even though experience is gained to perform such duties during military service.

Communications about credentialing must include the commanders in the field and encourage their participation.   These commanders should evaluate their training programs and incorporate civilian criteria into the military training.  Not only will serving members benefit by earning civilian credentials earlier, but the commands are likely to be able to utilize the broader skill sets that result from expanded training.  ROA and REA concur with this bill.

Homeless Veterans

H.R.2150, introduced by Rep. Paul Cook (California) would provide a five–year extension to the homeless veterans reintegration program.  ROA and REA support an extension of that length to help stabilize the program.

Veterans Economic Opportunity Administration

H.R.2327, introduced by Chairman Jeff Miller (Florida) reintroduces the establishment of the Veterans Economic Opportunity Administration that would be part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The Administration would be under the new position of Under Secretary of Economic Opportunity.

ROA and REA recognize that H.R.2327 is a different administrative structure that was suggested in the 2009 bill, and the Associations do not object to the concept.  ROA and REA hope that with the establishment of such an organization, any duplication of services within the Departments of Veteran Affairs and Labor would be eliminated and the resources incorporated into the Veterans Economic Opportunity Administration.

Another item to be considered with the establishment of the Veterans EO Administration would be to move the office of Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) from the Department of Labor into the new organization.

CONCLUSION
 
ROA and REA appreciate the opportunity to submit testimony, and we reiterate our profound gratitude for the progress achieved by this committee at improving a number of veteran benefits.

ROA and REA look forward to working with the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, where we can present solutions to future issues and offer our support.