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Congressional Updates

The House of Representatives and Senate were both in session this week. The House was originally scheduled for a week's recess starting July 18. However, due to the debt ceiling-budget talks taking up much of Congress' agenda, the House will stay in session.

House VA Committee Hearing on Veterans' Unemployment

On July 15, The American Legion testified before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee to present their thoughts on several pieces of legislation pending before the committee.

The American Legion applauded the committee for the attention given to the troubling rise in veterans' unemployment. Our organization expressed its support for the passage of all three measures before the committee.

First is H.R. 2433, the "Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011." This bill addresses one of the little-known facts of veterans' unemployment. Although the percentage of younger, unemployed veterans is slightly higher, the vast majority of the ranks of unemployed veterans is of an older age group and requires different needs. These needs include retraining of job skills and other skills not necessarily covered by education benefits directed at younger veterans. Reaching these veterans would provide real and tangible job skills needed in the changing employment market.

H.R. 2433 also seeks to provide all service members with the specific transitional training when leaving military service. America's service members are the most skilled and highly trained individuals of any other nation, yet when they are transitioning most of their military training is not properly equated to its civilian counterpart. In general, they must either return to school to get their civilian credentials or choose a different career path. These employment barriers exist for transitioning service members who seek employment in line with their military occupational specialty (MOS).

Next, H.R. 1941, "the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011," would amend the Wounded Warriors Act to extend until January 1, 2015, VA's authority to provide the same rehabilitation and vocational benefits to members of the Armed Forces with severe injuries or illnesses as are provided to veterans. The goal of this legislation is to: reduce unemployment for recently transitioned service members and place them in training; expand Vocational Rehabilitation programs for those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits; follow up on employment status after rehabilitation training, making Transition Assistance Program mandatory; provide grants to non-profits for veterans training, mentoring and placement; create a study to examine the employment barriers that transitioning service members face when acquiring civilian credentials; and utilize a direct hire for veterans who have recently transitioned from service with an honorable discharge.

Similar to H.R. 2433, this bill also recognizes the essential nature of a mandatory Transition Assistance Program (TAP) which is fully supported by The American Legion. There is no reason this necessary hand off between the military and civilian worlds should not be made mandatory.

Furthermore, better understanding of credentialing and certification is necessary to help civilian employers recognize the job skills learned in service closely mirror those required in the non-military world. There is no good reason a military driver should not be equally qualified to drive trucks in the civilian world, or that a corpsman is not qualified to serve as an EMT. Better attention to the certification and licensure process is needed.

Finally, H.R. 169 would require the VA to include on the main page of the Department's Internet website a hyperlink to the VetSucess website and to publicize the website. Helping wounded warriors and service-connected disabled veterans is and should maintain a high priority for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Giving them the proper tools and resources gives this group of veterans a way to gain an education and then enter a job market that fits their ability to perform.

The American Legion supports the passage of all three bills.

LEGISLATIVE FOCUS FOR THE WEEK: Update on American Legion Charter. H. R. 2369, the bill to amend the charter of The American Legion is now posted on THOMAS, the Library of Congress tracking website for Congressional legislation and can be found here:

The bill amends the charter of The American Legion to facilitate credit card processing of online membership renewal and other purposes. The bill has been referred to the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives. It currently has 192 cosponsors.

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." Over the last two weeks, five additional cosponsors have been added, namely Sens. Saxby Chambliss (GA), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), John Thune (SD), Dan Coats (IN), and Susan Collins (ME). The cosponsor total for the Senate legislation now stands at twenty-three.

To date, H.J. Res. 13 - the House companion to the Senate measure - has accumulated 52 cosponsors, with the addition this week of Rep. Leonard Lance (NJ). 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.

National Commander's Testimony

It is not too early to begin making your plans to attend the presentation of the new National Commander's testimony before the joint House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees on September 21. More information on this will be forthcoming.