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Witness Testimony of Mr. Frank C. DiGiovanni, Director, Training Readiness and Strategy Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness U.S. Department of Defense

Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you this afternoon to discuss legislation pending before the Subcommittee.  My testimony today will be limited to H.R. 1796, “Troop Talent Act of 2013”, H.R. 1842, “Military Family Home Act”, and H.R. 821.  I defer to the views Department of Veterans Affairs on the remaining bills.

H.R. 1796, Troop Talent Act of 2013
DoD supports many provisions contained in H.R. 1796 as they would greatly assist with our initiative to promulgate knowledge about licensing and credentialing and help secure greater opportunities for our Service members by leveraging their military service and training.  The Department currently has several good resources which correlate military training to civilian certification and licenses.  These include the Army’s and Navy’s Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) resources and the Air Force’s Credentialing and Educational Research Tool.  The Department will continue to improve these resources and capabilities.  For example, we are incorporating lessons learned from ongoing efforts, including our credentialing and licensing pilot program required by section 588 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 and our collaboration with the Department of Labor (DOL) on section 222 of the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act (codified under title 10, United States Code).
DoD is currently in the process of working with several State licensing and national certification agencies to develop and pilot standardized templates, technical data packages and methodologies.  Through this cooperation, the Department will facilitate a licensing or credentialing agency's ability to assess the equivalency of military training, skills and experience.  One best practice we are leveraging to address this requirement is the process Lansing (Michigan) Community College (LCC) uses to evaluate and award credits for training and experience to medics and corpsmen.  In this process, LCC first analyzed the military’s medics and corpsman programs of instruction from three different levels of mission complexity in order to establish appropriate amounts of academic credits across these three levels.  In the second phase, LCC developed a two-day competency exam that allows them to award additional academic credit for Service member experiential knowledge and capabilities.  The academic credit helps Servicemembers to become civilian paramedics.
In section 3 of this legislation, we note the use of the term “accredited credentialing agencies” would provide those agencies with improved access to military training content.  We suggest that this access be expanded in the bill to include agencies approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs for GI Bill payment and State licensing boards.  This will greatly expand the opportunities for Servicemembers to receive credit for their military training, education and experiences.
We applaud the new authority in section 4 of the bill, to use educational assistance for courses in pursuit of civilian certifications or licenses.  There is broad consensus within the Department in support of this expanded authority.  The Department also fully supports section 5 of the bill which would require the credentialing and licensing pilot program to include Information Technology-related occupational specialties.  

H.R. 1842, Military Family Home Protection Act
    The Military Home Protection Act proposes to amend the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to improve protections for Servicemembers, surviving spouses, and some veterans against mortgage foreclosures and includes protections for Servicemembers wishing to re-finance mortgages on properties in which they no longer reside due to military changes of station.
    The Department supports the intent of H.R. 1842.  Section 2 (a)(1) would amend 50 USC App 533 by adding new section 303A to expand protections for certain Servicemembers and surviving spouses, to obligations on real property that originated at any time.  This is a considerable expansion in this area, as the SCRA applies currently only to pre-service obligations.  This SCRA provision has traditionally offered these mortgage-related protections only to members of the Reserve Component, who are far more likely to have mortgage obligations prior to their entry on Active Duty.  The Department supports this expansion.
The amendments to 303A in section (a) propose to provide these expanded protections to certain Servicemembers serving in support of contingency operations; to certain veterans; and to surviving spouses of Servicemembers who died while serving in support of a contingency operation or who died while in military service whose death is service-connected.  This legislation includes a mechanism by which those covered individuals could invoke those protections by providing notice to lenders thereof.  We support these actions.
Section (f) would also amend the Act by providing several new definitions, including definitions of “veterans,” “surviving spouses,” and “covered time periods.”  The Department believes it better for purposes of clarity, that all definitions be contained within section 511,  but would not object if Congress determines it is necessary to provide specific definitions within this section for these categories of personnel.   
Lastly, we strongly support the intent of the bill’s extension of re-financing provisions to military homeowners unable to live in their homes because they have received Permanent Change of Station orders away from them.  This is a highly-desirable provision.  

H.R. 821, To amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to provide surviving spouses with certain protections relating to mortgages and mortgage foreclosures, and for other purposes.
    The Department does not object to H.R. 821 in its entirety, but prefers H.R. 1842.  H.R. 821 is largely duplicative of the aforementioned H.R. 1842; the protections this legislation seeks to extend to surviving spouses are addressed in H.R. 1842.  Also, H.R. 1842 addresses those protections in a better form, as H.R. 1842 proposed adding a new section (50 USC App 533a, Section 313a of the SCRA) to convey these protections, rather than attempting to amend current 50 USC App 533.  In addition, H.R.1842 requires, properly, that the newly-protected individuals must provide notification to creditors in order to receive protections, while H.R. 821 requires no such notification thereby placing the obligation upon the creditor.  Placing the obligation on the creditor in this way also places costly obligations on the Department.
The Department has no objections to Sections 2 and 3 of H.R. 821.        

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  On behalf of the men and women in the Armed Forces and their families, I thank you and the members of this Subcommittee for your continued steadfast support.