VETERAN-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
The House of Representatives and Senate have both returned from their summer work periods in their home states. There are many important legislative threads to tie together in the coming months. Most pressing - but likely to be consigned to the backburner - is the fiscal year 2012 appropriations. However, the most immediate concern is congressional attempts to cut federal spending.
"Supercommittee" Begins Frantic Months of Work
The work of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the "supercommittee," began yesterday, as the panel held its first official meeting, basically an organizational get-together. September 13 is its next meeting, when it will begin taking testimony from various sources. Each congressional committee will make recommendations to the panel toward meeting the goal of reducing the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next ten years.
The super-panel's first major deadline is October 14, which is the cut-off date for the various congressional committee recommendations to be sent to them. Next, the committee will have 40 days - until November 23, the day before Thanksgiving - to make its report to both the House and Senate for the deficit reduction plan. After that, Congress will then have an additional month - until December 23 - to accept the advice of the committee. If the panel's counsel is not heeded, then a series of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect.
The American Legion will continue to closely monitor this entire process, protecting the benefits which service members, veterans, and their dependents have earned. This country's economic security must NOT be accomplished by beggaring its veterans and armed forces.
LEGISLATIVE FOCUS FOR THE WEEK: Legion Staff Discuss "Civilian Service Recognition Act." On September 8 members of the Legislative Division staff met with the staff of Rep. Hanna (NY), Issa (CA), and Cummings (MD) to discuss H.R. 2061, the "Civilian Service Recognition Act of 2011." This bill would authorizes the head of an executive agency to pay the expenses for the presentation of a U.S. flag for an agency employee who died of injuries sustained which were related to his or her employment.
While the desire to recognize and honor the service of civilian employees with the presentation of an American flag is admirable, The American Legion feels this is inappropriate, and detracts from the unique honor bestowed upon deceased service members and veterans.
Prior to this meeting, a full vote by the House was delayed due to Rep. Hanna's schedule. That gave The American Legion and opportunity to address our concerns and criticisms of the bill. As a result of this meeting, further action on this bill has been temporarily delayed. The American Legion will continue to monitor this legislation and seek amendments to meet our concerns.
Committee Advances VOW Act Heads to House Floor
On September 8, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs favorably reported seven pieces of legislation for full House consideration. One was H.R. 2433, the "Veterans Opportunity to Work Act." This measure would to make certain improvements in the laws relating to the employment and training of veterans. In remarks made upon the bill's approval, Rep. Jeff Miller (FL), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and the sponsor of the VOW Act, said, "We will create the most qualified, most skilled veteran workforce since World War II to compete in today's tough job market. But as all Americans know, the government cannot create jobs. But what we can do is create the right environment for the economy to flourish. So, we owe it to our veterans to reduce the burden of overreaching regulations that encumber America's small businesses, including our veteran-owned businesses, the engine of our economy. In other words, we need to get the government out of the way of the economy and get our veterans back to work, and I am confident we can do this through the VOW Act."
The latest job figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that nearly 1 million veterans are currently unemployed, including more than 600,000 veterans of past eras and conflicts.
Next week, on September 13, the committee will host a Veteran Job Summit, bringing together dozens of companies and organizations focusing on the best practices of hiring veterans in the private sector.
Also headed to the full House is H.R. 2074, the "Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act," introduced by Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (NY). This legislation, which seeks to prevent sexual assault at VA facilities, is a result of a June GAO report which found that lack of reporting, security measures, and accountability lead to hundreds of patients and VA employees being left vulnerable to sexual assault.
"Our veterans come to VA seeking care and support and should not be left to fend for themselves when faced with assault," Miller said. "As I have stated many times before, even one act of this nature, one sexual predator in VA's system is absolutely unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated."
Other bills approved by the full committee included:
• H.R. 2646: Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act of 2011 (introduced by Rep. Bill Johnson [OH]);• H.R. 2302: To amend Title 38, United States Code, to direct the VA Secretary to notify Congress of conferences sponsored by VA (introduced by Rep. Marlin Stutzman [IN]);• H.R. 2349: Veterans' Benefits Training Improvement Act of 2011, a bill to direct the VA Secretary to annually assess the skills of certain employees and managers of the Veterans Benefits Administration (introduced by Rep. Jon Runyan [NJ]);• H.R. 1025: To amend Title 38, United States Code, to recognize the service in the reserve components of certain persons by honoring them with status as veterans under law (introduced Rep. Tim Walz [MN]); and,• H.R. 1263: To amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to provide surviving spouses with certain protections relating to mortgages and mortgage foreclosures (introduced by Rep Bob Filner [CA]).
Update on Flag Amendment Bills
Senator Orrin Hatch's (UT) office continues to solicit additional cosponsors for Senate Joint Resolution 19, a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration. Its text states simply: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The cosponsor total for the Senate legislation now stands at twenty-six, with the addition this week of Sens. Jay Rockefeller (WV) and Dean Heller (NV).
To date, H.J. Res. 13 - the House companion to the Senate measure - has accumulated 54 cosponsors. Please contact your representatives' and senators' offices, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. If they are already cosponsors, be sure to thank them for their support.
Update on American Legion Charter Legislation
H. R. 2369, the bill to amend the charter of The American Legion is posted on THOMAS, the Library of Congress tracking website for Congressional legislation and can be found here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.2369:
The bill amends the charter to clarify statutorily the autonomous, independent nature of our posts and departments. It would also facilitate credit card processing of online membership renewals. The bill is in the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives awaiting action. This week The American Legion sent a ‘request to cosponsor' letter to all members of the House who have not yet joined with the 203 representatives currently supporting our bill. Please write your representative and ask for swift passage of this legislation in the House when they return in September.
Letters of Support
On September 7, The American Legion sent a letter to Rep. Ted Poe (TX), supporting H.R. 2848, a bill entitled the "Veterans' Religious Freedom Act." This measure would protect the rights of the families of American veterans to worship as they choose when laying their loved ones to rest in our national cemeteries.
Can any member of The American Legion family attend the Commander’s testimony in Washington, DC?
As you're aware, National Commander Fang Wong will be addressing a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on September 21st at 10 AM. One of our greatest concerns in the past year was the lackluster attendance of The American Legion at our National Commander's testimony, especially as it relates to the other veteran service organizations. Those groups, each a fraction of the size of The American Legion, mustered double or even triple the number of participants as we have. Legislative Chairman Dan Dellinger has vowed to reverse this trend.
We're often told at local posts, "I didn't know anyone could attend the Commander's testimony." We need to eliminate this perception and have a wide spectrum of The American Legion family in attendance. No one should be excluded. We need to pack the hearing room and show the vitality and importance of The American Legion.
It goes without saying, we cannot reimburse anyone for attending who hasn't already received a national call-in, yet given the invitation and opportunity to participate, we're sure our Legion family members will join us.
Yet if you can't easily join us, you'll have an opportunity to learn of the information shared and the testimony offered. The point papers and drop sheets that will be handed out at the testimony site will be available on The American Legion website - www.legion.org/legislative -- late next week. In addition, there is a very good chance the Commander's testimony will be broadcast live on one of the C-SPAN channels; it will also probably be available for viewing on the website of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
We appreciate your efforts in bringing Commander Wong's testimony to the stature our organization deserves.