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Congressional Updates

The House of Representatives was in recess this week – with two pro forma sessions held – while the Senate was in session.

Sen. Kerry Confirmed to Head State Department

Senator John Kerry (MA) was confirmed by the Senate for the position of Secretary of State, replacing Hillary Clinton. The vote for Kerry’s confirmation was 94-3. He was sworn into his new position on February 1.

Sen. Kerry has represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate since 1985. He was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since 2009. In the wake of his confirmation, MA Governor Deval Patrick appointed William “Mo” Cowan to replace Kerry, until a special election (to be held on June 25) will name Kerry’s permanent replacement.


Meeting with Senate Staff on Homeless Veteran Legislation

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SCVA) will consider American Legion-favored legislation that would allow taxpayers to use their IRS tax refunds to help homeless veterans.

On Jan. 22, S. 62Check the Box for Homeless Veterans Act of 2013 — was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (CA) along with fellow senators Mark Begich (AK), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Chris Coons (DE), Mary Landrieu (LA), Barbara Mikulski (MD), and Jeff Merkley (OR). The measure has been referred to the SCVA for consideration. Legion Legislative staff met with Sen. Boxer’s office to discuss plans for getting the bill enacted.

If enacted, S. 62 would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate overpayments of tax as contributions and to make additional contributions to a Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund. The legislation would give taxpayers the option to check a box on their annual tax return and make a donation of $1 or more to the federally maintained fund. Donations to the fund would be used to provide assistance to homeless veterans through programs currently in place at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Labor.

The Legion adopted Resolution 308 during its 94th National Convention in Indianapolis, which urges Congress to "establish a fund in the Treasury of the United States to be known as the ‘Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund’ to provide assistance to homeless veterans as a supplement to, but not a replacement for, existing funds for such assistance." The resolution also urges Congress to amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow taxpayers with income tax liability of $3 or more to contribute to the fund.

Meeting with House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Staff

On January 28, staff from the Legion's Legislative and Economic Divisions met with staff from the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs and other VSOs to discuss new legislation (H.R. 357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013) that requires state public schools to provide in-state tuition to veterans regardless of residency. The bill appears to enjoy universal support among the veterans community and has excellent prospect of passage this year.

Also discussed was draft legislation regarding DOD’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP has recently been redesigned into a comprehensive, mandatory program through the efforts of an interagency team from the DOD, VA, Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Education (ED), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Congress has already passed legislation to improve the Transition Assistance Program, a major overhaul of the 20-year-old TAP, as part of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, but DOD is improperly executing it. The America Legion is working with Congress to ensure that TAP offers the services and information necessary for transitioning service members and veterans.

Since the passage of the Vow Act, the TAP curriculum has been gone through three iterations of overhaul; two of which were within the last year (2011). As of July 2012, DOL has unveiled the new TAP courses which will be taught in a standardized manner in all duty stations across the United States. The core curriculum covers all the broad benefits briefings and intensive resume workshops. This curriculum is taught within five days, while there are added capstone courses available to separating members at their completion of the five day course.

The capstone courses cover an educational track, a technical and skills training track and entrepreneurship track, which allows the separating service members to hone in on the field they intend to pursue after service. However, these capstone courses are not recognized by DOD as being a part of the core curriculum, while DOL considers this a part of TAP. 

Significant amounts of tax-dollars have already been spent by the Agencies to meet federal compliance for developing and implementing the new TAP curriculum. Ensuring that the separating servicemember has the time to actually utilize all these resources is only right and equitable return on the tax-dollars spent. Hence, The American Legion supports legislation that would: (1) require DOD to recognize the capstone courses as a part of TAP; (2) make TAP (including the all the capstone courses) mandatory for all servicemembers separating from a period of active duty; and (3) require that DOD permit Guard and Reserve servicemembers leaving active duty service, time to attend TAP classes (to include the capstone course) no less than 90 days prior to separation from active duty service.

The Legion adopted last year Resolution No. 23: Improve Transition Assistance Program and Resolution No. 298: Transition Assistance Program Employment Workshops for National Guard and Reserve Members.

Meeting with staff from the offices of Reps. Judy Chu and John Carney, Sens. Bill Nelson, and Richard Blumenthal to discuss the 2013 Legion agenda

Economic and Legislative Division staff met with staff from several congressional offices to discuss The American Legion’s 2013 agenda. This included policy and legislative issues such as, but not limited to, education, credentialing, small business, homelessness, sequestration and the Transition Assistance Program.

Preparations for Washington Conference Going Forward

The Legislative Division continues to work diligently in preparation for the upcoming Washington Conference, being held February 25-27. Legion Family members will converge on our nation’s capital for meetings, conferences, workshops, and lobbying their members of Congress to continue the work of The American Legion.

The Legislative Division will be in charge of the “Commander’s Call” on Tuesday morning February 26. The agenda is still being developed, and prospective speakers are being considered. Legislative Commission Chairman Ken Governor (NY) is coming to Washington in two weeks to work with staff to prepare the agenda.

American Legion Legislative Council

The Legislative Division continues the task of re-building the membership of the National Legislative Council for the 113th Congress. Council recommendation forms were emailed to Department leadership in December, asking for nominations for new congressional members. Completed forms were due in the Legislative Division offices in Washington, DC by January 18. To date, 29 Departments have returned their Council nomination forms.

The importance of the Legislative Council cannot be overstated. It is an especially important voice for The American Legion family, and the way in which members of Congress can be quickly contacted when legislative action is needed. Departments are urged to complete their nomination forms and return them to the Legislative Division offices as soon as possible.

Letters of Support

The American Legion on February 1 sent a letter of support to Representatives Jeff Miller (FL) and Mike Michaud (ME) – the chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, respectively – giving our organization’s support for H.R. 357, legislation entitled the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013. This measure would make all student-veterans eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, regardless of their residency status.

This bill would correct an unfair and widespread financial burden on America’s veterans, who often have a difficult time establishing residency for purposes of obtaining in-state tuition rates. Many of our student-veterans are required to pay thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses in nonresidential tuition rates. This legislation would affect about 40,000 student-veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill for their education. [Resolution 237]

Update on Flag Amendment Bills

On January 18, House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 19 was introduced by Representative Jo Ann Emerson (MO). This legislation is 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 next task is finding cosponsors for this legislation. Please contact the offices of your representative and senators, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. [Res. 272]