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Witness Testimony of Tom Tarantino, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America., Senior Legislative Associate

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member, and members of the committee, on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s 200,000 Member Veterans and supporters, I thank you for inviting me to testify at this hearing to share our members’ views on these important issues. 

My name is Tom Tarantino and I am the Senior Legislative Associate with IAVA.  I proudly served 10 years in the Army beginning my career as an enlisted Reservist and leaving service as an Active Duty Cavalry Officer.  Throughout those 10 years, my single most important duty was to take care of other soldiers.  In the military, they teach us to have each other’s backs. Although my uniform is now a suit and tie, I am proud to work with this Congress to ensure the entire country has the backs of America’s service members and veterans.

Bill #

Bill Name/Subject

Sponsor

Position

H.R. 802

VetStar Award Program

Filner

Support

H.R. 1383

Restoring GI Bill Fairness Act of 2011

Miller

Support

S. 1657

Misrepresentation of Service Disabled Owned Small Business

Stutzman

Support

H.R.  DRAFT

Andrew Connolly Veterans Housing Act

Braley

Support

H.R. 802–VetStar Award Program

IAVA conceptually supports the establishment of a program to recognize businesses that contribute to veterans’ employment.  While we endorse H.R. 802, however, IAVA has concerns about what this specific program will look like, how it plans to recognize such businesses and what effect it will have lowering the rising veteran unemployment rate.  While a VetStar program certainly couldn’t hurt, we remain skeptical that this is the most effective course of action for Congress to take at this stage.

In 2010, the unemployment rate for new veterans was a staggering 11.5 percent.  Even as the civilian unemployment rate begins to decline, we continue to see the new veteran unemployment rate rise month to month in 2011.  With less than half a percent of Americans fighting in the current wars and only 8 percent of Americans having ever served in the military, it is critical that we bridge the widening gap between the civilian workforce and our nation’s veterans.  IAVA believes that more proactive measures need to be taken if we are to turn the tide on veteran unemployment. 

Several weeks ago, IAVA brought 28 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from around the country for our annual Storm the Hill campaign to discuss solutions for reducing the veteran unemployment rate by Veterans Day 2011.  Meeting with 117 offices and 57 Members of Congress, we proposed the following policies to reverse the growing number of unemployed veterans:

  1. Order a study and report on the differences between military certifications, jobs, and education and those for civilian counterparts.
  2. Make the TAP program mandatory and call for a review of the program every three years.
  3. Make USERRA violations enforceable, and expand USERRA to include in-state National Guard deployments.
  4. Encourage entrepreneurship by expanding successful Small Business programs like the Patriot Express Loan Program and the Veteran Entrepreneurship Bootcamp.
  5. Encourage business to hire veterans by simplifying and enacting a robust tax relief package.

I am proud to report that our suggestions met with almost universal support.  Many Members of the House, especially those sitting in this room, stepped up and are working on legislation that will reduce the number of veterans coming home from war to an unemployment check.  I look forward to testifying at a future legislative hearing on those bills, and reporting to IAVA’s 90,000 Member Veterans that Congress has their back.

H.R. 1383 - Restoring GI Bill Fairness Act of 2011

IAVA proudly supports H.R. 1383.  This bill will ensure that a small minority of veterans who, due to poorly constructed and confusing tuition and fee regulations, would have had their benefits reduced as a result of the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s expansion to 400,000 more veterans will be able to finish College.

The House of Representatives wisely included this provision in their version of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010.  The provision, however, was excluded from the final version that the President ultimately signed into law.  IAVA fought hard to ensure that this small minority of student veterans would not be negatively impacted by the improvements and expansion of the Post 9/11 GI Bill.  On behalf of our members and those student veterans, I would like to thank this committee for their commitment to ensure that these student veterans are not left behind.

H.R. 1657-Misrepresentation of Service Disabled Owned Small Business

IAVA supports H.R. 1657, strengthening the penalties that small businesses may incur if they misrepresent themselves as veteran-owned or service disabled veteran-owned small businesses when seeking government contracts. 

Promoting veteran entrepreneurship is key to fighting the growing tide of veteran unemployment.  Small businesses that falsely claim to be veteran-owned when applying for government contracts harm veterans who provide essential services and contracts to the federal government.  This bill provides clarity on the penalties that may be levied against those businesses if they take contracts away from veteran entrepreneurs.

Draft Legislation–Andrew Connelly Veterans’ Housing Act

IAVA proudly supports this draft legislation that would extend the authority of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide adaptive housing benefits to veterans who are recovering from injuries at the home of a caregiver through 2016.

For the thousands of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan with severe injuries, the recovery process is often long and arduous.  Many of them require constant care from a family caregiver for years after they leave service.  During this time, they frequently reside in a home that is not their own and not a permanent residence where they may live on their own after recovery. Adaptations, like ramps and elevators, must often be made to their permanent home and that of their caregiver while they are recovering from their injuries.  While the VA does provide grants for adaptive housing, the benefit is largely based on the assumption that wounded warriors are living in their permanent home.  Section 2102A of Title 38 allows the VA to issue a separate grant to adapt the temporary homes of recovering veterans; however, it is set to expire at the end of this year.  By extending this program to 2016, Congress can show their strong support for those veterans who have made the most extreme sacrifices for our freedom. 

Conclusion

I would like to thank this committee for continuing to support Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families.   By ensuring that these bills are swiftly made law, we will continue to send a signal to veterans of all generations that Congress and the veterans’ community has their back.  Thank you for your time and attention.