FOR VETS bill passes House

By a vote of 387-1, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow The American Legion and other veterans service organizations (VSOs) to obtain, at no cost, federal surplus property such as computers, vehicles and appliances.

The Formerly Owned Resources for Veterans to Express Thanks for Service (FOR VETS) Act of 2013 (H.R. 1171) was introduced last March by Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich. The legislation would amend Title 40 of the U.S. Code "to improve veterans service organizations access to Federal surplus personal property."

American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz sent a letter July 9 to Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., asking him to move the Senate version of the FOR VETS bill (S. 573) forward so that it can be voted on before Congress recesses in August. Carper, an original co-sponsor of S. 573, chairs the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, where the measure is being considered.

In his letter, Koutz wrote that the bill would enable VSOs "to gain increased opportunities to Federal surplus property to educate, train, and improve the quality of life for veterans, their families, and communities in which they live."

The FOR VETS bill reflects the intent of Resolution 331, passed by The American Legion in August 2012 at its national convention in Indianapolis. The resolution supports legislation that enables VSOs to gain access to surplus federal property (distributed through state agencies) by making VSOs "their own category of eligibility."

Speaking on the House floor before the July 8 vote, Benishek thanked The American Legion for its efforts in supporting the FOR VETS bill. He also thanked the National Association of State Agencies for Surplus Property.

Last March, Koutz sent letters of support to Benishek and also to Sen. Susan Collins, who introduced the Senate version of the bill on March 14. Previously, Collins introduced a FOR VETS bill on Dec. 19 that passed the Senate. But the bill died when the 112th Congress ended before the House could act on it.

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., was the sole member of the House to oppose the FOR VETS Act of 2013. A former governor of South Carolina, Sanford is an Air Force Reserve captain serving with the 315th Airlift Wing at Charleston Air Force Base. He won his House seat in a special election on May 7.