(Washington, DC) – Today at a Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (SVAC) hearing, two critical pieces of legislation introduced by SVAC Ranking Member U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), were reviewed, showing the widespread support and need for the bills. Significant discussion was devoted to the Career-Ready Student Veterans Act of 2015, bipartisan legislation introduced by Ranking Member Blumenthal and Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) that would protect veterans’ use of GI Bill benefits and stop benefit use on unaccredited education programs. The legislation – cosponsored by a group of a dozen Republican and Democratic senators – has strong support from Veterans’ Service Organizations (VSOs), with representatives from the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars attending the hearing to testify on the critical need for the legislation. The Veterans Education Success (VES), Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Student Veterans of America (SVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and American Veterans (AMVETS) provided written testimony in support of the bill.
“Today’s agenda reflects important work by Members on both sides of the aisle on behalf of our nation's veterans and their families,” said Ranking Member Blumenthal. “I am proud to have introduced, along with my colleague from North Carolina, Senator Tillis, and many other Senate colleagues, the Career-Ready Student Veterans Act. This critical measure will ensure that our nation’s heroes using hard-earned GI Bill education benefits will receive appropriate, applicable, and valid education and training – necessary to guarantee that veterans are adequately prepared to enter into the workforce. It is our duty to safeguard veterans from being misled into squandering GI Bill benefits on worthless degrees and ensure veterans receive a high quality education. I am pleased that this bill has broad support from VA as well as the veteran service organizations represented at our hearing today and in written testimony.”
Speaking at the hearing in support of the legislation was Dr. Joseph Wescott, Legislative Director of the National Association of State Approving Agencies, who stated that the legislation is needed to address any holes in current safeguards applied by State Approving Agencies, as “one disappointed veteran is too many.”
Also discussed was the Department of Veterans Affairs Equitable Employee Accountability Act of 2015, which Blumenthal introduced last month. Currently co-sponsored by eighteen senators, the legislation addresses gaps in VA’s current system for managing and addressing accountability – a widespread problem that came to light last year – while also ensuring that constitutional due process rights of federal employees are preserved and whistleblowers at VA are provided adequate, constitutional protections.
“This will address the critical need to hold all federal employees accountable, which has been clearly lacking at VA as evident from the myriad of VA scandals,” Ranking Member Blumenthal stated. “It is imperative that all efforts to improve accountability at VA also ensures whistleblowers are provided full protections afforded to them under the Constitution, which is currently lacking in legislation that purports to address accountability but fails to preserve Constitutional due process rights. I am committed to working with my colleagues to pass legislation to ensure all VA supervisors and employees who fail our veterans are held accountable.”
Donald E. Kettl, Professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy who specializes in the management of public organizations testified in support of the bill, stating, “Senator Blumenthal’s bill would provide a very strong and sensible foundation for solving a problem that everyone agrees must be solved: how best to provide our veterans with the care they deserve. It would significantly strengthen the nation’s efforts in providing health care to veterans. Just as important, it would clearly hold the top officials in the Department of Veterans Affairs accountable for the department’s management and performance. Many of the biggest challenges facing the Department are people-based, and Senator Blumenthal’s bill would put training at the very center of the VA’s career development network. The only effective way to avoid future crises for veterans is to build—now—the capacity the Department will need for tomorrow. The biggest imperative that the nation faces in caring for its veterans is making the Department work. Senator Blumenthal’s bill is an important step down that road.”