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Witness Testimony of Mr. Curtis L. Coy, Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity, Veterans Benefits Administration U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Takano, and other Members of the Subcommittee.  Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to provide the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) views on pending legislation affecting VA’s programs, including the following:  H.R. 357, H.R. 562, H.R. 631, H.R. 844, and H.R. 1402, as well as a draft bill to authorize an extension of VA’s work-study training program for certain activities, and sections 3 and 4 of a draft bill to improve and increase the availability of VA’s on-job training and apprenticeship programs.  Other bills under discussion today would affect programs or laws administered by the Department of Labor (DOL).  Respectfully, we defer to that Department’s views on H.R. 1305, a bill to provide clarification regarding eligibility for services under the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, and H.R. 1316, a bill to specify the responsibilities of the Directors and Assistant Directors of Veterans’ Employment and Training.
Accompanying me this morning is Mr. Danny Pummill, Director, Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)/Department of Defense (DoD) Program Office.

H.R. 357
H.R. 357, the “GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013,” would amend section 3679 of title 38, United States Code, to direct VA, for purposes of the educational assistance programs administered by the Secretary, to disapprove courses of education provided by public institutions of higher education that do not charge tuition and fees for Veterans at the same rate that is charged for in-state residents, regardless of the Veteran's state of residence.  The bill does not address whether tuition and fee rates for Servicemembers or other eligible beneficiaries of the GI Bill affect the approval status of a program of education.  H.R. 357 would apply to educational assistance provided after August 1, 2014.  In the case of a course of education in which a Veteran or eligible person (such as a spouse or dependent who is eligible for education benefits)is enrolled prior to August 1, 2014, that is subsequently disapproved by VA, the Department would treat that course as approved until the Veteran or eligible person completes the course in which the individual is enrolled.  After August 1, 2018, any disapproved course would be treated as such, unless the Veteran or eligible person receives a waiver from VA.  While VA is always supportive of States affording the best and most affordable possible educational opportunities for Veterans, VA cannot offer support for this legislation because of its uncertain impact on the availability of educational choices for Veterans, Servicemembers, or their dependents.  
It is difficult to predict what reductions in offerings by educational institutions would result by this requirement.  In-state tuition rules are set by individual States, and are undoubtedly driven by overall fiscal factors and other policy considerations.  Additionally, the bill creates ambiguity since it is unclear whether institutions that charge out-of-state tuition and fees to other eligible persons for a course of education, but that charge in-state tuition to Veterans in the same course, would also be disapproved.  
This bill may result in a decrease in program expenditures by reducing the number of individuals who participate in the Yellow Ribbon program because either: (1) they would no longer be charged the out-of-state tuition amount if they are attending a public school outside their state of residence, or (2) they would choose not to participate at all because of reduced educational choices.  As noted above, it is difficult to project the effect of this legislation on the courses offered by public educational institutions.
VA estimates approximately 11.8 percent of Yellow Ribbon participants attended public institutions since the program’s inception.  Of those, an estimated 80.6 percent were Veterans during the 2012 fall enrollment period.  VA applied these percentages to the total amount of Yellow Ribbon benefits paid in FY 2012 and projected through FY 2023, assuming growth consistent with the overall chapter 33 program.  Based on those projections, VA estimates that enactment of H.R. 357 would result in benefit savings to VA’s Readjustment Benefits account of $2.3 million in the first year, $70.3 million over five years, and $179.9 million over ten years.  VA estimates there would be no additional GOE administrative costs required to implement this bill.

H.R. 562
    H.R. 562, the “VRAP Extension Act of 2013,” would amend Title II of Public Law 112-56, the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011,” to extend for 3 months (through June 30, 2014), the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) authorized by section 211 of that title.  It also would direct VA, in collaboration with DOL, to submit to Congress, not later than 30 days after the date of enactment of H.R. 562, an interim report on the retraining assistance provided under such program.  The report would include the total number of eligible Veterans who had participated in the program as of the date of the enactment of the bill, the total number of associates degrees or certificates awarded to these Veterans, and other data relating to the employment status of such Veterans.
VA supports legislation that would extend the VRAP program.  Extending VRAP by three months would offer Veterans more time to select and complete their degree or certificate program.
While VA is prepared to provide an interim report regarding the number of VRAP participants since inception of the program, we have concerns about providing a report on degree and certificate outcomes and employment status of participants because the program does not end for another year.  We recommend, in the alternative, that an interim report be required no later than 90 days after enactment of the proposed legislation, which would exclude the employment status of participants.  This change would allow VA and DOL an opportunity to collect statistics regarding educational outcomes and provide additional time for VRAP participants to complete their program of education.  Given the nature of employment data collection, there is a significant time lag between when a veteran receives employment services and when their employment outcome can be adequately tracked.  For example, for those who completed their VRAP training and received DOL follow-up employment services by December 31, 2012, job-related outcomes will not be available until November 2013, as there is roughly an 11-month lag between the availability of State wage records and the calculation of the Entered Employment measure.  Collecting outcomes before participants use a full year of their benefits would give an inaccurate picture of the success of the program.  VA also recommends if the program is extended for an additional three months, the date of the final report to Congress, which the bill currently sets as on or before July 1, 2014, should also be extended for three months to October 1, 2014.  VA would not be able to provide a full report to Congress on the program participants on July 1, 2014 for the reasons stated above.
VA estimates no benefit costs to the Readjustment Benefits account associated with this proposal.  VA already assumes maximum participation and usage for VRAP in its budget estimates.  While this bill would provide Veterans an additional three months to utilize their VRAP benefit, there would be no increase or other change in Veterans’ eligibility or entitlements.  GOE costs for this legislation would be negligible and would be absorbed within existing resources.

H.R. 631
H.R. 631, the “Servicemembers’ Choice in Transition Act of 2013,” would amend section 1144 of title 10, United States Code, concerning the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which provides employment and job training assistance and related services for members of the Armed Forces being separated from active duty, and for their spouses, to add a new subsection delineating the Program’s format and content.
H.R. 631 proposes a curriculum similar to the Transition Goals, Plans, Success (Transition GPS) curriculum currently being implemented worldwide.  This bill would require that TAP consist of at least five days of instruction to include:  (1) at least one day of service-specific pre-separation training; (2) up to one day  for instruction in preparation for employment, preparation for education, career, or technical training, preparation for entrepreneurship, or other options determined by the Secretary of the military department concerned; (3) at least two days of in-depth instruction of the participant's choice in any of the subjects described under (2), above; and (4) up to one day of instruction in benefits provided under laws administered by VA and in other subjects determined by the Secretary concerned.
H.R. 631 also would require VA to submit to the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs, not later than 180 days after the date of enactment, the results of a study to determine the feasibility of providing Veterans benefits instruction at all overseas locations where such instruction is provided through a joint contract with DOL.
VA does not support this legislation.  VA appreciates the strong interest and support from the Committee to ensure that departing Servicemembers are given full and effective engagement on their employment and training opportunities, as well as the other VA benefits they have earned.  However, it is our view that the programs implemented as a result of “VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011” and the Veterans Employment Initiative (VEI) satisfy the intent underlying H.R. 631.  We believe those initiatives should be afforded the opportunity to be fully implemented and assessed before further legislation in this area is enacted.  Allowing agencies to proceed under current plans would provide greater flexibility in implementing improvements and making adjustments based on accurate data analysis during assessment.  We will be pleased to brief the Subcommittee on the improvements and enhancements that are currently being implemented as part of the VEI.
    VA, with Federal agency partners, including DoD, DOL, the Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Small Business Administration (SBA), is currently participating in the implementation of an enhanced TAP curriculum, known as Transition GPS, which was developed under the VEI.  
    Current components of the Transition GPS curriculum include mandatory pre-separation counseling, service-delivered modules, VA benefits briefings, a DOL Employment Workshop, and tracks the participant many choose to utilize, focused on technical training, educational, and entrepreneurial information, resources, and opportunities.  
The Capstone event will be implemented by the end of FY 2013, and it is intended to confirm that Servicemembers have met all the objectives of the Career Readiness Standards and have a viable plan to successfully achieve their transition goals.  With the implementation of this event by the end of FY 2013, the Transition GPS curriculum will take approximately seven to eight days to complete.  
VA has primary responsibility in the development and delivery of VA benefits briefings and the technical training track, as well as additional responsibilities to support partner agencies in the implementation of the education track, the entrepreneurship track, and the Capstone event.  The Capstone event is intended to serve as a end-of-career experience to verify, and bolster transition training and services.  
It is important to note that a key VEI recommendation is the institution of a long-term military lifecycle transition model, which would incorporate career readiness and transition preparation into the entire span of a Servicemember’s career, from accession to post-military civilian life.  If the military lifecycle model were to be implemented, as is currently intended, the transition training activities would not be limited to the end of a Servicemember’s career.  Instead, preparation for transition would be a military career-long focus.
The current VA TAP briefings take six hours, and the bill’s mandate for a full day of briefings, currently interpreted as eight hours, would require VA to develop additional curriculum, train briefers on this curriculum, and potentially hire additional briefers.  VA does not believe this mandate would represent the best use of its transition resources.
The bill provides that the TAP program would include at least five days of instruction.  The current Transition GPS curriculum is envisioned to take up to seven days (five days of mandatory and Department of Defense modules, plus two days of optional tracks delivered by the Services and partner agencies), with the potential for additional hours required for pre-separation counseling and the Capstone event.  Moreover, the eventual move to a military lifecycle model would involve supplementary instruction during Servicemembers’ careers.  
As Servicemembers progress through the current Transition GPS program, they focus part of their efforts on beginning to identify their next steps for transition (e.g., pursue employment, higher education, technical training, or self-employment).  This is accomplished through both the Military Occupational Classification Crosswalk module and the DOL Employment Workshop.  Additionally, existing VA programs, such as the Educational and Vocational Counseling program (Chapter 36), already provide such supplemental assistance for eligible transitioning Servicemembers.  While additional time may be dedicated to assist Servicemembers in making an informed decision on which path to choose, dedicating a whole day to this topic may be excessive and duplicative given the recommendation for a long-term military lifecycle transition model, which would incorporate career readiness and transition preparation throughout a Servicemember’s term of enlistment or career.
Furthermore, the Transition GPS curriculum makes a distinction between education and technical training tracks.  VA has responsibility for the technical training track of Transition GPS and has devoted resources to curriculum development and piloting of this module.  It is not clear how this module would fit into the curriculum as mandated by H.R. 631.  There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that Servicemembers would benefit from the option of choosing either the education or technical training tracks, as planning for these career choices somewhat differs.  The current curriculum model enables such specialization and differentiation in the curriculum, thus improving the quality of the Servicemember’s experience.
As noted, VA is in the process of fine-tuning delivery and content to best meet Servicemembers’ needs, and additional legislation at this stage may hinder those efforts.   
VA estimates that enactment of H.R. 631 would result in administrative costs to VA of $8 million for the first year (including salary, benefits, travel, rent, supplies, training, equipment, and other services, to include curriculum development), $39.3 million for five years, and $83.8 million over ten years.  VA estimated IT costs for the first year are $300,000 (including the IT equipment for FTE, installation, maintenance, and IT support), $800,000 for five years, and $1.9 million over ten years.

H.R. 844
H.R. 844, the “VetSuccess Enhancement Act,” would amend section 3103 of chapter 31, title 38, United States Code, pertaining to training and rehabilitation for Veterans with service-connected disabilities, to extend, from 12 to 17 years after discharge or release from active-duty service, the authorized period for such Veterans to enroll in certain VA vocational training and rehabilitation programs.  This amendment would be effective with respect to Veterans applying for assistance under chapter 31 on or after the date of enactment of the Act.
Provided that Congress finds funding offsets, VA supports extending the basic period of eligibility for vocational rehabilitation and employment (VR&E) services.  Individuals may need vocational rehabilitation services during the transition from military to civilian life, during mid-life when disabilities worsen or a career change is needed, or later in life when independent-living concerns may appear.  By extending the period of eligibility, VR&E staff would be able to provide individuals who meet the eligibility and entitlement criteria for services under Chapter 31 with the services and assistance they need within a wider window of time.
VA estimates that enactment of H.R. 844 would result in benefit costs to VA of $2.7 million for the first year, $15.3 million over five years, and $35.3 million over ten years.  There are no administrative costs associated with this bill because the caseload increase would be minimal.

H.R. 1402
H.R.1402 would amend section 322 of title 38, United States Code, to extend for 5 years (through FY 2018) the yearly $2 million appropriations authorization for VA to pay a monthly assistance allowance to disabled Veterans who are invited to compete for a slot on, or have been selected for, the U.S. Paralympic Team in an amount equal to the monthly amount of subsistence allowance that would be payable to the Veteran under chapter 31, title 38, United States Code, if the Veteran were eligible for and entitled to rehabilitation under such chapter.  H.R.1402 also would amend section 521A of title 38 to extend for 5 years (through FY 2018) VA’s appropriations authorization, with amounts appropriated remaining available without fiscal year limitation, for grants to United States Paralympics, Inc. (now the United States Olympic Committee) to plan, develop, manage, and implement an integrated adaptive sport program for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.  These Paralympic programs have experienced ongoing improvement and expansion of benefits to disabled Veterans and disabled Servicemembers, to include 115 Veterans qualifying for the monthly assistance allowance, and over 1,900 Paralympic grant events with over 16,000 Veteran participants during FY2012.  Under current law, both authorities will expire at the end of FY2013.
VA supports extension of these authorities, but recommends further revisions, to improve the accessibility and equity of these programs, by extending monthly assistance allowances to disabled Veterans who are invited to compete for a slot on, or have been selected for, the United States Olympic Team (not just the Paralympic Team) or Olympic and Paralympic teams representing the American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, by authorizing grants to those Olympic and Paralympic sports entities, and by clarifying that the current authority to award grants is to promote programs for all adaptive sports and not just Paralympic sports.   
VA estimates there would be no costs associated with implementing this bill.

Draft Legislation Affecting Work Study
    This draft bill would amend section 3485(a)(4) of title 38, United States Code, extending for five years(through June 30, 2018) VA’s authority to provide work-study allowances for certain already-specified activities.  Under current law, the authority is set to expire on June 30, 2013.
    Public Law 107-103, the “Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001,” established a five-year pilot program under section 3485(a)(4) that expanded qualifying work-study activities to include outreach programs with State Approving Agencies, an activity relating to the administration of a National Cemetery or a State Veterans’ Cemetery, and assisting with the provision of care to Veterans in State Homes.  Subsequent public laws extended the period of the pilot program and, most recently, section 101 of Public Law 111-275, the “Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010,” extended the sunset date from June 30, 2010 to June 30, 2013.
VA does not oppose legislation that would extend the current expiration date of the work-study provisions to June 30, 2018.  We would prefer that the legislation provide a permanent authorization of the work-study activities, rather than extending repeatedly for short time-periods.  
Benefit costs are estimated to be $178,000 during FY 2013 and $5.14 million for the five-year period beginning on June 30, 2013 through June 30, 2018.  
Draft Legislation Affecting OJT/Apprenticeship
Section 2 of this draft bill, the “Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2013,” would require VA to carry out a public relations campaign to promote VA on-job training (OJT) and apprenticeship programs available to Veterans as highly efficient and cost-effective ways of obtaining jobs.  Section 3 of the draft bill also would reduce, during the 3-year period beginning on the date that is one year after the date of enactment, the amount of wages paid the eligible veteran or person in an OJT program not later than the last full month of that training period from 85 percent to 75 percent of the wages paid for the job for which such individual is being trained.  Section 4 of the draft bill would require VA, not later than one year after the date of enactment, to enter into agreements with other Federal departments and agencies to operate their own OJT programs under section 3677 of title 38, United States Code, to train eligible Veterans or persons in skills necessary to obtain employment by those entities.  Finally, section 5 of the draft bill would extend until January 31, 2017, the reduced pension for certain Veterans covered by Medicaid plans for services furnished by nursing facilities.
VA does not object to the provision in section 3 that would temporarily reduce the requirement under section 3677 that wages paid the eligible Veteran or person must be 85 percent of the full wages paid for the job near the end of the training program.  This amendment may increase the number of job-training programs for Veterans in the future.    
VA supports the intent underlying section 4; however, we do not believe legislation is necessary since VA currently has authority to approve federal OJT and apprenticeship programs under section 3672(b) of title 38, United States Code.      
We will provide views on sections 2 and 5, and cost estimates for all sections of this draft bill at a later date.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.  I would be pleased to respond to questions you or the other Members of the Subcommittee may have regarding our views as presented.