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Hon. Stephanie Herseth, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity

Good afternoon.  The Veterans’ Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee hearing on the performance, staffing, and services provided by the Education, Loan Guaranty, and Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) of the Department of Labor will come to order.

I would like to thank Ranking Member John Boozman for his leadership as past Chairman of the Economic Opportunity Subcommittee.  I look forward to again working with you.  In addition, I would like to welcome the new members of the Subcommittee, Representatives Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Jerry McNerney of California, and John Hall of New York.  I look forward to building upon our strong bi-partisan relationship so that we may provide our Nation’s veterans the best available services they need and deserve.

Earlier this year, Ranking Member Boozman, other members of this Subcommittee, and I discussed the hearing topics to be covered during the 110th Congress.  I am proud to say that we have an ambitious list that includes expanding education benefits for National Guard and Reservists, examining the funding levels for State Approving Agencies, reviewing the VA’s procurement goals with respect to veteran and service-disabled veteran owned small businesses and other important issues.

First and foremost, Ranking Member Boozman, I look forward to working with you and our colleagues on the Armed Services Committee to update the Montgomery G.I. Bill for National Guard and Reserve servicemembers.  These brave soldiers continue to support military missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world.  Unfortunately, although they are being called to duty and mobilized for an average of 18 months, their educational benefits do not reflect their increased service to our nation.   When the Montgomery G.I. Bill was signed into law in 1984, servicemembers of the Guard and Reserve were rarely mobilized, and that simply is not the reality today.  Again, I look forward to working with you to address this issue, passing legislation that will better reflect the reality of today’s military and ensure that the enormous contribution and sacrifice of Guard and Reserve servicemembers are more equitably recognized.

Like many of my colleagues, I have spent the last few days meeting with veterans from across my state.  Those meetings have generated many questions and concerns that I hope to address here today.   I am particularly interested in hearing about the VA’s efforts to address the education claims workload and problems associated with the centralization of education claims service operations. 

I would like to thank our panelists for being here with us today to participate in a frank dialogue with Members of this Subcommittee.  I encourage you to continue to work with us, so that we may ensure our servicemembers, veterans, and their families are properly cared for and receive the best available services to help them transition back to civilian life after their honorable service to our country.

Much progress has been made in education benefits, vocational rehabilitation services, and VA home loans programs.   However, I think everyone would agree that we must remain vigilant to maintain against any decline in benefits or customer service. 

Thank you all again for being here.  I look forward to hearing from you.

I now recognize our Ranking Member, Mr. Boozman for any opening remarks that he may have.