Legion testifies in support of bills to aid veterans, Guard and Reserve seeking education

Legion testifies in support of bills to aid veterans, Guard and Reserve seeking education

The American Legion expressed its support for legislation that would improve educational and economic opportunities for veterans and servicemembers during a House subcommittee hearing on June 12.

Kevin O’Neil, senior policy associate for the Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education Division, testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

“Keeping in line with the theme of education, The American Legion would like to express its support for two bills that will greatly improve education and training outcomes for veterans,” O’Neil said in his opening statement to the subcommittee.

H.R. 8529, the Warriors to Workforce Act, would increase the monthly basic housing allowance paid by the VA to eligible individuals during the first year of a full-time apprenticeship or other on-the-job training program. “If passed, this bill will be a significant step towards ensuring that veterans have the necessary support to transition into the civilian workforce,” O’Neil said. American Legion Resolution 296 supports the aim of the legislation. “We firmly believe that no veteran should be forced to discontinue their education due to housing costs.”

H.R. 7543, the Guard and Reserve GI Bill Parity Act of 2024, would expand eligibility for Post-9/11 educational assistance to National Guard and Reserve servicemembers. “From safeguarding our borders and capitols to providing pandemic aid and supporting local law enforcement, National Guard and Reserve servicemembers have been increasingly called upon to face unique challenges,” O’Neil said. “They often make significant sacrifices, leaving their families and civilian employers for extended periods of time —sometimes even accepting substantial pay cuts. Yet, despite all we ask of them, they often are denied fundamental benefits of their service, particularly the GI Bill. The American Legion believes that every day in uniform counts.” American Legion Resolution No. 24: GI Bill Fairness for Activated National Guard and Reserve Servicemembers supports counting every day in uniform toward GI Bill eligibility.

O’Neil also noted the Legion’s support of the VA Housing Loan Forever Act. “The American Legion supports transferring housing loan benefits to spouses and biological or legally adopted children. There’s no option for servicemembers and veterans to transfer VA home loan benefits to their spouse or child. By enabling and supporting the families of our veterans and servicemembers, we are supporting the military community as a whole,” O’Neil said.

The American Legion supports those benefits through Resolution No. 8: Home Loan Guaranty Program Eligibility.

In written testimony provided before the hearing, the Legion expressed support for other pending legislation:

H.R. 8560, the End Veteran Homelessness Act of 2024, would improve the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. Among the improvements:

*Streamlining case management by prioritizing vulnerable veterans;

*Advocating for an annual HUD-VASH report to detail veterans served, qualifications of case managers and more;

*Clarifying rental assistance for homeless or at-risk veterans.

Resolutions 357 and 332 reiterate the Legion’s call for Congress to immediately improve the HUD-VASH program.

H.R. 7920, the AG VETS Act, “recognizes veterans’ potential in agriculture and directs the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a grant program to establish and enhance farming and ranching opportunities for veterans,” the Legion wrote. “… Awarding grants to entities that provide veterans with targeted training and classroom education will lead to more opportunities.”

The Legion’s support for the AG VETS Act is demonstrated through Resolutions 318, 296 and 25.

In written support of H.R. 7896, the VETS Opportunity Act of 2024, the Legion wrote, “The Post-9/11 GI Bill fails to adequately benefit veterans in hybrid versions of skilled trade training programs. This bill would extend educational benefits in the Post-9/11 GI Bill for veterans enrolled in hybrid certificate programs offered by higher education institutions; these hybrid programs teach in-demand skilled trades.

“Endorsed by the American Legion through Resolution No. 14: Preserve Housing Benefits for Online Education, we urge Congress to expand the Post-9/11 GI Bill to better support veterans in hybrid versions of skilled trade training programs.”

H.R. 8661, the Reforming Education for Veterans Act, would allow “servicemembers seeking an education to withdraw, take a leave of absence, or otherwise come to an agreement with the institution if they receive orders to enter a period of covered service. Second, it requires the VA to allow educational institutions with multiple campuses to file only one compliance survey. Last, if the VA updates its official handbook, it must notify all school certifying officials (SCOs). These reforms will improve the protection of education benefits and simplify the reporting process for SCOs and institutions, which ensures better outcomes,” the Legion wrote. The Legion supports the legislation through Resolution 318.

“Historically, on-campus educational and vocational counseling has suffered from a lack of qualified personnel. Additionally, those who may be qualified are administratively burdened by the number of students being served at any given time, leading to a disparity in the services provided to veterans on campus,” the Legion wrote. “(H.R. 8646, the Modernizing the Veterans On-Campus Experience Act of 2024) seeks to improve the provision of on-campus educational and vocational counseling by the Department of Veterans Affairs.” Provisions of the bill are supported by Legion resolutions 318 and 343.

Through resolutions 228 and 59, the Legion supports H.R. 8627, the Student Veteran Debt Relief Act of 2024, which “aims to alleviate the financial burden and stress associated with overpayment recovery for veterans pursuing education,” the Legion wrote. The bill would stipulate that overpayments would not be made a liability for veterans if due to a VA error or incorrect information from DoD; would include a hardship waiver if the overpayment liability would prevent a veteran from continuing their education; and would establish a payment plan if an overpayment cannot be recovered.

H.R. 8647, the VA Home Loan Program Reform Act, would authorize the VA Secretary to take actions to prevent or resolve a default on a housing loan guaranteed by the VA.

“Many veterans still face foreclosure because of the pandemic’s impacts. Additional resources provided through this bill will alleviate problems of delinquency and allow veterans to remain in their homes without fear of foreclosure,” the Legion wrote. “… Based upon Resolution No. 8: Home Loan Guaranty Program Eligibility, The American Legion supports legislation that helps veterans seeking a home and, therefore, any administrative or legislative effort to make this process easier for veterans.”