The Economic Division has been working closely with Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania to introduce a bill which would allow for the inclusion of veteran-owned small businesses to participate in set-aside contracts at the state level. Rep. Fitzpatrick ignited a bipartisan push Thursday with Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois to ensure our nation's veterans play a critical role in rebuilding our nation's infrastructure with the introduction of the Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act.
"Our fighting men and women are the most highly skilled workforce in history," said Fitzpatrick. "We must leverage their unprecedented skills to get our economy moving once again."
Bustos added: "Rebuilding our nation's transportation infrastructure is one of my top priorities and is absolutely essential to growing our economy and creating jobs. The brave veterans who served us so honorably deserve our full support and that starts with making sure they have good-paying jobs here at home."
The Fitzpatrick and Bustos Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act, H.R. 2906, would provide veterans with access to existing contracting preferences authorized for transportation projects. Specifically, this bill would apply to the re-authorization of the "Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act," known as MAP-21, which provides over $100 billion of federal funding for highway and transit projects across the country. The Fairness to Veterans policy was unanimously amended to FY 2012 VA/MilCon appropriations and became law. The policy was unanimously amended to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012 representing over 60 percent of the federal discretionary budget, and to FY 2013 VA/MilCon appropriations.
"The American Legion emphatically supports Rep. Fitzpatrick's Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act. This legislation would offer some redress by helping to ensure equal opportunity for veterans by expanding their participation in Department of Transportation contracting opportunities. Our gratitude also goes out to Rep. Cheri Bustos for agreeing to introduce this important legislation jointly," said American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz. "Veterans have already achieved significant small business success, and many have taken advantage of the Legion's small business workshops. But barriers remain and not all veterans receive the same opportunities to prosper as other small business owners do."
More than 250,000 servicemembers are transitioning each year from the military to civilian life. One in four veterans say they want to start a business, according to the Small Business Administration (SBA). While 2.4 million veterans own a business according to the most recent Census, many would likely hire fellow veterans if given the opportunity.
In other news:
Korean War armistice: On July 3, American Legion staff  participated in the ceremony of the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. The sacrifices and struggles of American forces in the Korean War was remembered and honored during a ceremony at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington; President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel shared their words with several hundred Americans who gathered to thank those who served in Korea. Many veterans' service organizations, including The American Legion, and Department of Defense representatives presented wreaths at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
Visit to Texas: The Economic Division visited the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) July 29-30 in Austin and San Antonio. The TVC has the best record in the nation for placing veterans in the job market. In addition, the Legion visited Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston to speak with their TAP/Wounded Warrior Unit representatives about employment issues facing servicemembers, along with how effective are current federal programs that assist veterans as they transition out of the military.
Working with Easter Seals: Economic Division staff met on July 26 with Phil Panzarella, chairman of the board, Easter Seals (Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.), to discuss the group's new veterans initiative. Discussion also centered on working with the Legion on a greater scale, which includes addressing veterans unemployment at the state and post level. Easter Seals has been helping individuals with disabilities and special needs, and their families, live better lives for nearly 100 years. From child development centers to physical rehabilitation and job training for people with disabilities, Easter Seals offers a variety of services to help people with disabilities address life's challenges and achieve personal goals.
Homeless project: The first phase of an innovative project for Kansas City homeless veterans has secured financing and construction should begin soon. U.S. Bank said it is providing more than $17.7 million in financing for the first phase of the St. Michael's Veterans Center, which is designed to meet a broad spectrum of homeless veterans' needs on 22 acres near 39th Street and Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard, just southeast of the VA Medical Center.
The project is being developed by Catholic Charities and Yarco, a development company specializing in multifamily housing. Officials hope the first phase will be completed by next May, providing 58 one-bedroom affordable housing units. Ultimately, supporters envision a $34 million complex with about 180 units of affordable housing in three buildings, plus a service center with case management, mental health care, job training and other services.
The financing came through the U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corp., a subsidiary of U.S. Bank. Kansas City housing officials have spearheaded the project for several years and have overseen mass grading of the site. The city has also issued a contract to build the street improvements needed for the development. "Everything is coordinated and coming together," said Stuart Bullington, who runs the city's housing and community development division. Construction is expected to begin soon and a formal groundbreaking may be in September.
Resolution No. 306 (passed at the 94th National Convention) states that:
Bills gain approval: On Aug. 1, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee held a mark-up hearing to approve a number of veteran-related bills for further action by the full House. Among the measures approved, all by voice vote, were:
In the Senate: On Aug. 1, the Senate passed a pair of veterans measures by unanimous consent:
House Committee on Foreign Affairs: Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa
On Wednesday, staff attended a hearing hosted by the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa regarding Iran and Syria. The hearing, on the eve of the inauguration of Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani, focused on Rouhani's past positions on the Syrian conflict and Iran's nuclear program reveal about possible policy changes, if any, under a new Iranian government, and recommendations for the appropriate U.S. policy response.
A webcast of the hearing can be found here .
Claims: During the week ending July 26, the Board of Veterans' Appeals reached dispositions on 130 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 70.1 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 36 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion's arguments. In 56 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran's claims which mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 28 (21.5 percent) were outright denials.