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Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, Chairwoman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of South Dakota

Opening Statement of the Honorable Stephanie Herseth Sandlin

Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity

Field Hearing: Transition Assistance Program for Guard

and Reserve Forces

May 12, 2008

I would like to thank Ranking Member John Boozman of Arkansas for joining us here today and Representative Joe Donnelly of Indiana’s second Congressional district for his hospitality in inviting us to South Bend, Indiana.  I look forward to building upon our strong bi-partisan relationship so that we may provide our Nation’s servicemembers, veterans and their families the best available services they need and deserve.

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

Like many of my colleagues in the Subcommittee, the state of South Dakota has had service members that have been activated in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Some of these brave men and women have returned injured and are currently in need of healthcare and employment services.  They, like all disabled veterans from around the country, deserve our best efforts to provide a seamless and effective transition from military service to civilian life and the workforce.

Earlier last year, this Subcommittee held its first hearing that included the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training programs that are created to assist veterans with employment assistance and protect a servicemember’s employment rights.  While these programs have been proven to be very successful in other areas across the country, today we will receive testimony from servicemembers that could benefit from these programs but might not be aware they exist.

Like many of my colleagues here today, I had the opportunity to meet with local government officials and veterans back in my home state of South Dakota.  During one of my meetings, I had the opportunity to speak with the leadership staff of South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds and the South Dakota Adjutant General (Major General Steven Doohen) about ways to improve existing veterans programs. 

I am glad that we did succeed in making progress for our Nation’s Reserve Forces.  Included in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, we were able to gain bipartisan support for language that would allow mobilized members of the Reserve Forces to use their REAP education for ten years after they separated from the Guard or Reserve.  While this is progress in the right direction, we must remain committed to expanding all benefits to help meet the needs of our servicemembers.

Furthermore, our Subcommittee has been working with our Committee Chairman Bob Filner of California to address the immediate needs of possible foreclosure of a servicemember’s home.  As we will hear from a recent Subcommittee hearing, data specific to veterans does not exist, or is limited in scope, leaving us with an incomplete puzzle that makes it harder for us to get a good idea of how current mortgages are affecting our veterans.  Fortunately, many of us have heard from our returning servicemembers and veterans back home about the problems they have encountered.

Today, thousands of veterans throughout our country deserve better, and we must do better to ensure they are afforded the protections they need as they adjust to life after their military service.  

I am particularly interested in hearing about the issues of concern from servicemembers, veterans and their dependents, and the actions the administration is taking to resolve the concerns of employment, rehabilitation, housing and education. 

I look forward to working with Ranking Member Boozman, Representative Joe Donnelly and other Members of this Subcommittee to ensure that our most critically wounded servicemembers are provided both proper training to complete their mission and the proper benefits to help them succeed in life after the military.