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Reps. Wenstrup, Levin, Sens. Rubio, Hassan Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Prioritize Veterans' Employment, Transition, Education Benefits at VA

Washington, April 3, 2019 Contact: Ann Tumolo (202-225-3164)

WASHINGTON, D.C. Today, Representatives Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) and Mike Levin (D-Cali.), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, and Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) introduced the Veterans’ Education, Transition, and Opportunity Prioritization Plan (VET OPP) Act of 2019. The bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Reps. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. It is supported by multiple Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs).

Currently, the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) is responsible for all Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits provided to veterans outside of healthcare and cemetery services. While there are many different benefits that VBA provides, the bulk of staffing and resources have been directed towards the administration of disability compensation and pension claims. This has resulted in a lack of attention on the administration of other VBA benefits, such as the Forever GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation, Home Loan benefits, and VA’s portion of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP).

The VET OPP Act would address this issue by realigning transition, education, and employment programs at VA under a new administration, the Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration. This new administration would be accountable to a presidentially appointed undersecretary and would be created using existing resources to avoid additional bureaucracy.

Upon introduction, the Representatives, Senators and VSOs released the following statements:

“As a member of the Armed Services, I know how important it is to help our warfighters succeed in their transition to civilian life," said Wenstrup. "By aligning transition, education, and employment programs in a Fourth Administration within the VA, we will ensure that these opportunity-focused programs get the high priority they deserve, and the oversight they need to better serve veterans.”

“We have a responsibility to provide America’s servicemembers with the best possible resources and opportunities as they transition back to civilian life, and we must do more to meet that responsibility,” said Levin. “Education, job training, and transition assistance programs are critical to veterans’ economic success, but many veterans aren’t receiving these opportunities because of bureaucratic red tape at the VA. This bipartisan bill will allow us to deliver those resources more effectively by creating a new Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration at the VA and bringing more oversight to economic programs for veterans. As Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, I will continue to work across the aisle on measures to ensure that military families like those around Camp Pendleton have the economic support they need.” 

“As our nation’s veterans transition back to civilian life, we must ensure the VA adapts to the 21st century needs of our service men and women as they pursue civilian employment opportunities,” said Rubio. “By creating a Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Assistance Administration, this legislation would modernize the outdated structure of the VA and provide more direct oversight and accountability over existing programs aimed at helping our veterans lead economically prosperous lives post-service.”

“This bipartisan bill will help ensure that our brave veterans who have sacrificed for our freedoms have the support and resources to help them smoothly transition into our civilian workforce and leverage their unique skills and experience to pursue careers that further support our economy,” said Hassan. “By prioritizing education, housing, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and military-to-civilian transition services at the VA, this legislation is a step forward in our efforts to build a country that is ever-worthy of the selfless sacrifice of our veterans.”

“Helping veterans successfully transition to civilian life and pursue the American dream should be VA’s highest priority. However, last fall, the failed full implementation of the Forever GI Bill shined a light on the lack of attention that veteran education, transition, and employment programs were getting at VA,” said Roe. “This bipartisan legislation would create a fourth administration within VA to house all of these important programs under one roof to ensure they receive the support they deserve and don’t continue to fall through the cracks.”

“This important bipartisan legislation uses existing resources to create a bureau within the VA that specifically focuses on supporting Veterans as they transition to civilian life," said Bilirakis. "This is a priority for me, as it will allow greater focus on ensuring the smooth administration of educational benefits, removing barriers to economic success, and improving transition assistance programs.”

 "TAPS supported the creation of a 4th administration in the Department of Veterans Affairs last year, and we think it is even more urgent this year.," said Ashlynne Haycock, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors' (TAPS) Deputy Director of Policy and Legislation. "VA must prioritize education. We watched the mistakes in the implementation of Forever GI Bill and it reiterated why it is so important to put economic opportunity as a priority for VA." 

"Student Veterans of America strongly supports the VET OPP Act, which creates the Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration," said Lauren Augustine, Student Veterans of America's (SVA) Vice President of Government Affairs. "The intent of programs such as the GI Bill, VA home loan guarantee, and transition assistance programs are truly unique and separate from the larger disability compensation operations managed by the Veterans Benefits Administration. Separating the appointed management of these programs honors that difference, creates greater accountability, attention, and leadership over some of the most successful and empowering programs and benefits currently administered by VA."

“While DAV continues advocating for timely access to high quality veterans’ health care and protecting other veterans benefits, we also recognize that this nation should place equal focus on gainful employment, education and other economic opportunities for veterans,” said Randy Reese, Disabled Veterans of America's (DAV) Washington Executive Director. “DAV proudly supports the VET OPP Act as it recognizes the value of these programs by combining them into their own Administration focused solely on economic utilization and growth.”

“We are pleased to support legislation to establish the Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration," said Heather Ansley, Paralyzed Veterans of America's (PVA) Associate Executive Director of Government Relations. “By creating a fourth administration within VA, this bill will give the financial and administrative autonomy needed for VA to strengthen the focus on Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services and other programs to help veterans with catastrophic disabilities.”

“The office of Economic Opportunity is a proactive approach to supporting veterans and their families as they transition from military service," said Tanya Ang, Veterans Education Success' (VES) Vice President. "It is important they have a more prevalent voice who can speak and advocate on their behalf, especially during the point of transition from military to civilian life and while in school. That is why we support the concept of a fourth administration within VA."

Click
here for more information on the VET OPP Act of 2019.

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