APRIL 20, 2012 DATELINE: CAPITOL HILL Senate passes veteran certifi cation language T e Senate passed a measure
which T e American Legion considers a “good fi rst step” in paving the way for qualifi ed military veterans to more easily obtain commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). On March 14, by a vote of
74-22, senators approved the surface transportation authorization bill (S.1813), known as the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” bill. In it is an amendment that requires the Secretary of Transportation to convene a study assessing the barriers faced by qualifi ed servicemembers and veterans wishing to obtain a CDL. As it stands, in some states, well-trained and experienced license seekers – such as current and former military- truck drivers – must undergo further training and testing that advocates consider unnecessary, expensive and time-consuming. T e amendment was introduced by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and had the support of several other senators from both parties. In mid-February, American
Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong wrote a letter to Snowe in support of her bill that would have pressed for expeditious recognition of training that servicemembers receive toward a CDL. Her proposed legislation,
S. 2084, directs, “Not later than 1 year aſt er the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and in cooperation with the States, shall establish accelerated licensing procedures to assist veterans to acquire commercial driver’s licenses.” T at bill remains in Senate committee hands. To their credit, a number
of state departments of motor vehicles – including those in Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Utah – have established procedures for the quick issuance of CDLs to current and recently discharged military-vehicle operators. Several other states are considering similar measures. S. 1813 now awaits action
in the House of Representatives. T e Legion is hopeful for fi nal passage of this legislation.
Legion attends committee hearing on homeless veterans On March 14, T e Legion
attended a Senate Veterans Aff airs Committee hearing on homeless-veteran programs and the challenges facing communities and VA to end veteran homelessness by 2015. Although the
Kenneth F. Governor Chairman, National Legislative Commission
trend on the number of veterans who are homeless continues to decline, witnesses expressed skepticism of the accuracy of those counts – which currently include more than 67,000 veterans – and of the ability of VA to
leverage existing data against programs to end homelessness. Two of the most poignant
witnesses were two homeless female veterans who had used the VA system. While their initial engagement with VA highlighted a need for better case management, their ultimate success in nonprofi t transitional-housing programs became one of the highlights of the hearing. As Ranking Member Sen.
Richard Burr, R-N.C., noted, cooperation and coordination between VA, HUD and nonprofi ts are essential to success. “VA is focused on the crisis du jour while these [nonprofi t and community- based organizations] are focusing on meeting the needs of homeless veterans,” he said. Perhaps the most striking
data revealed that despite a $200 million increase in funding during the past year, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has no standards for security, grant monitoring or program oversight once the grants are off ered. Of the funds distributed in 2010, all lacked guidance on security measures for veteran participants, including female veterans in homeless housing. One-third failed to address the unique issues of women veterans in their grant applications. Of the facilities surveyed, 27 percent did not have adequate control of the medicines provided to the residents. Nearly half of the VA regional offi ces failed to do specifi c outreach programs. When asked how these
security implications weighed upon her choice to stay at a homeless transitional facility, one female veteran testifi ed,
“I’d rather stay in my car with my kids than stay in an unsafe homeless facility.” Ultimately, although the
trend is decreasing, troubling anecdotal stories and evaluation of VA’s eff orts towards ending homelessness are a cause for concern. As the VA Offi ce of Inspector General testifi ed, “T e VA does not have the data necessary to end homelessness.” As more and more money is allocated toward ending veteran homelessness, this fi nding – absent a plan to obtain the data – remains troubling to the Legion. Other witnesses and testi-
mony encouraged VA and Congress to look toward improvement of the per diem and grant program. Items considered include: • Adding a cost-of-living increase in the per diem allocation to keep pace with existing costs associated with veteran care.
• Encouraging capital funding grants, to be matched by the nonprofi ts, to facilitate construction of new homeless transitional facilities, especially those for women and veterans with families.
• Minimizing or eliminating coed veteran housing to maximize the safety of residents.
• Providing additional funding for innovative treatment and care of homeless veterans suff ering from PTS, TBI and other maladies. In her opening statement,
Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., bluntly stated her concerns about homeless women veterans: “We cannot violate their trust and safety when we place them in home- less-veteran housing,” she said.
Senate hearing addresses
possible BRAC activities On March 21, the Legion
attended a hearing on military construction, environmental and base closure programs, conducted by the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support. T e hearing’s purpose was to review these programs as presented by President Obama for the Defense Authorization Act for fi scal 2013. T e witnesses included Doro-
thy Robyn, deputy undersecre- tary of Defense for installations and environment; Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army (installations, energy and environment); Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the Navy (energy,
installations and environment); and Terry Yonkers, assistant secretary of the Air Force (installations, environment and logistics). T e main point of
contention at this hearing was the president’s request for new Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) authority in fi scal 2013 and 2015. In answer to the president’s request, both Subcommittee Chairman Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Ranking Member Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., announced that they will block any eff orts to create a new base closing commission. Consequently, it appears that this authority will not pass for fi scal 2013. T is does not mean that base
realignments and closures will not happen overseas, as the president does not need congressional authority for those actions. In addition, this is a policy decision, and thus no budget money was allocated in the budget request; policy denial by Congress does not aff ect the budget debate at all. T e main concerns the
senators raised for not supporting this authority were the upfront costs it would take to go through this process, and the ability to build bases up again if necessary. T e witnesses all said that the authority was necessary, due to upcoming force reductions and the need to be rid of excess infrastructure. Further witness testimony
indicated the following items of interest to the Legion: • T e reduction in construction funding for family housing occurred because the Department of Defense only builds such housing overseas now, as family housing in the United States has been privatized;
• Requests for other construction funds are fewer for fi scal 2013 because DoD plans to begin realignment actions based on troop reduction beginning in fi scal 2014; DoD wants to defer construction for this fi scal year in order to study the ramifi cations of the troop reduction and how it will aff ect bases; and
• T ere will be increases in funding for the energy- reduction and water- conservation programs.
House subcommittee examines veterans employment, training programs
On March 21, the House
Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies held a hearing devoted to veteran employment and training programs. T e hearing was to help ascertain the status of veteran-jobs programs being implemented through the Department of Labor, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a Connecticut nonprofi t organization called T e Work- Place. T e WorkPlace acts as the Workforce Investment Board for southwestern Connecticut, and operates three “One-Stop Career Centers.” Witnesses at the hearing
included Ishmael Ortiz, deputy assistant secretary for veterans’ employment and training at the Department of Labor; Kevin Schmiegel, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Hiring Our Heroes initiative; and Joseph Carbone, president and CEO of T e WorkPlace. Ortiz began by providing an
overview of the veteran- specifi c programs run through DoL – specifi cally, Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG), Transition Assistance Program (TAP) employment workshops, the Homeless Veterans’ Reinte- gration Program (HVRP), the Veterans Workforce Investment Program (VWIP), the Uniformed Services Employ- ment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and veterans preference in federal employment. Each of these programs works directly with veterans to assist in the devel- opment of their job skills through training opportunities, as well as matching veterans with job opportunities in their area. T e JVSG program utilizes
Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists and Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVERs) at One-Stop centers throughout the country, working with veterans to facilitate their matching with employment and training opportunities. TAP provides separating active-duty servicemembers and demobilizing National Guard and reserve members with training designed to equip them with vital skills for acquiring employment. HVRP is aimed at providing employment and training specifi cally to homeless veterans. VWIP provides competitive grants for training,
See SENATE on Page 7
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