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Congressional Updates

The House and Senate have a number of 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, as well as possible action on legislation to stimulate jobs.

On Wednesday the House Appropriations Committee introduced a continuing resolution (read the text here) that would keep the government funded until Nov. 18 at the debt-ceiling agreement rate of $1.043 trillion for the fiscal year. It includes $3.65 billion for disaster relief, $1 billion of which is for fiscal 2011 that will be available as soon as the bill is enacted. It also delays the mandatory payment from the U.S. Postal Service, allowing it to continue operating. The only curious provision is the inclusion of a bill that approves the renewal of restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003. "By preventing a government shutdown and once again cutting spending below last year's levels," House Speaker John Boehner (OH), said in a statement, "this bill gives Congress more time to complete work on legislation that stops the Washington spending binge and provides more certainty for job creators."

House VA Committee Approves Service Dogs Legislation

On September 7, Deputy Director Dean Stoline attended a meeting with other VSOs and organizations to discuss the upcoming House Veterans' Affairs Committee service dogs legislation.

On September 8, at a mark-up session of the House Veterans Affairs' Committee - attended by Deputy Director Ian DePlanque - passed a substitute amendment to the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act (H.R. 2074). The amendment changes the title of H.R. 2074 to the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention and Health Care Enhancement Act. Section 5 of the amendment included the language of the Veterans Equal Treatment for Service Dogs Act (H.R. 1154). Section 6 of the amendment included a modification of the Veterans Dog Training Therapy Act (H.R. 198).

The changes to H.R. 198 will help to ensure the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) partners with Assistance Dog International organizations, International Guide Dog Federation Organizations, and academic affiliates or other organizations with equivalent credentials, which have experience in teaching others to train service dogs. These organizations will partner with VA for the purpose of advising VA on the design, development, and implementation of the VA pilot service dog program. While the amended language addressing H.R. 198 includes important changes supported by The American Legion, we want to ensure the legislation protects both veterans and service dogs.

LEGISLATIVE FOCUS FOR THE WEEK: Veterans Employment Summit Held. On Tuesday, September 13, Deputy Director Dean Stoline attended the House Veterans' Affairs Committee Veterans Employment Summit. Chairman Jeff Miller (FL) and Representative Tim Walz (MN) discussed the best practices for hiring veterans into the private sector workforce. In addition to comments from members of the committee there were presentations from several corporations and organizations.

These presentations were:• Benefits of Hiring Veterans: Edison Electric Institute and Wal-Mart;• Hiring Practices for Veterans and Mentoring: American Corporate Partners and Prudential Financial;• Metrics of Veteran Programs: Microsoft

Other corporations and organizations present on the panel were: Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc.; U.S. Chamber of Commerce; CINTAS Corporation; Computer Sciences Corporation; CSX Corporation; Cubic Applications, Inc.; Deloitte; Direct Employers Association; General Electric Company; GI Jobs Magazine; ITT Systems Corporation; McKesson; ManTech International; Society of Human Resource Management; Southern Company; and Department of Labor Veterans Employment and Training Service.

The purpose of the summit was to discuss the best practices of the private sector for hiring veterans and to bring public awareness and attention to the issue. There was also a general panel discussion in which the panel members shared commonalities in veteran hiring practices and discussed new ideas to help veterans of all conflicts find employment in today's job market.

Chairman Miller said, "I am grateful to all the companies who attended the Veterans Employment Summit today to share with Members of the Committee, and the public, what they have found to be the most effective and efficient ways to help America's veterans find meaningful employment in today's tough economy." Rep. Walz stated, "When the brave men and women who serve our nation in uniform leave to deploy overseas, they don't just leave behind their family and friends, often times they leave behind jobs and livelihoods as well... I want to work with veterans and employers alike to make sure our warriors have access to a good paying job to support their families when they return."

All the companies had developed specific veteran hiring practices in some form and were unanimous in expressing their desire to do more to help lower veteran unemployment rates. Currently unemployment rates for veterans stands at 7.7 percent for all generations of veterans, with higher percentages for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

Several of the companies noted that veterans feel most comfortable when they are hired by a fellow veteran. Panel members also said CEOs must take a leadership role in hiring veterans into their organizations.

One frustration for panel members was the inability to provide internships to transitioning service members and give them real-world experience, a practice currently not allowed by the Department of Defense. There was a clear indication the Transition Assistance Program is in need of revision in order to assist service members who are out-processing from military service. Improvements include translating military occupation specialties into human resource skills for companies to better understand the capabilities acquired in military service and finding a way to license and credential those skills in order that a veteran may immediately go to work upon release from active duty.

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 stands at twenty-six.

To date, H.J. Res. 13 - the House companion to the Senate measure - has accumulated 57 cosponsors, with the recent additions of Reps. Rodney Alexander (LA), David Roe (TN), and Kathy McMorris Rodgers (WA). 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.

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 236 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.