SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCPENDING LEGISLATIVE PROPOSALS IN THE AREAS OF EDUCATION, TRAINING, AND EMPLOYMENT
WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 1997
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Benefits,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 9:30 a.m., in room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Jack Quinn (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Quinn, Filner, Evans, Mascara, Reyes, and Rodriguez.
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN QUINN
Mr. QUINN. Good morning, everyone. In the interest of a habit that was forced on me some 4 1/2 years ago of starting on time, and particularly since the gentleman who got us all here on time was Mr. Sonny Montgomery, and since he is our first witness, we will do our best to start on time, Sonny, and we are thrilled that you are here.
Let me begin for our first witness and others who are in the audience to follow up on a conversation Bob Filner and I had yesterday. There is a chance that I may have to leave the hearing for just a few minutes once or twice this morning, and I apologize for having to do that, but we have some votes going on that I must attend to right down the hall. Bob will sit in for both of us in my absence, and I would ask for all the panelists this morning that we continue at your speed and pace, and Bob and I, of course, stay in close communication.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC So I will be only out for a couple of minutes, and when we come back, we will keep the hearing going until we are finished here this morning. Bob, I thank you for your cooperation on that issue here this morning.
We are here to meet to discuss several bills and draft bills in the area of veterans education and employment. I, along with others, am especially delighted that our former Chairman is able to join us this morning, and I am sure I speak for all of us in welcoming the father of the Montgomery GI Bill, the Honorable Sonny Montgomery, back here to our committee and our committee room.
When it comes to education, the old adage about teaching someone to fish is more effective than giving them a fish remains as true as ever. A solid education is the foundation to a successful career.
June 22 marked the 53rd anniversary of the original GI Bill. At that time there was still more than a year of bloody fighting left to end World War II, but the Congress and the President realized the value of an educated citizenry when they made the World War II generation the first to have broad access to a college education. The Nation continues to benefit from that wisdom.
I feel strongly that veterans must be a primary source of that skilled workforce that is important to all of us. Back in 1985, a man of vision sought to recreate the success story brought on by the original GI Bill. After several years of hard work, title 38 was amended to create the Montgomery GI Bill, the first meaningful peacetime education benefit.
As everyone knows, the Montgomery GI Bill remains the centerpiece of our Veterans' Readjustment Program and does yeoman's work as an incentive for our youths to enlist in the Armed Forces.
But despite all of Sonny's good work, the benefit level remains too low for many of our veterans. Since the mid-1980s, the inflation rate and the cost of higher education has averaged over 7 percent. As a result, our veterans are now getting about the same monthly benefit payment as in the early 1970s.
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We feel that, Sonny, your work and your comments this morning will be very important to this subcommittee and the full committee. And before I turn to Mr. Filner for some opening remarks and then get to your comments, Sonny, I want to thank Bob for his insight and his work on some of the bills that we will be discussing this morning. He and I have been trying to work the committee in such a way that we will be able to take to the full subcommittee and the full committee some work that will get passage in the whole House, and Bob has been patient with this hearing, and he has done a great job of preparing all of us to hear what we are going to hear this morning.
So, Bob, I turn to you for some opening remarks at this point.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB FILNER
Mr. FILNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for scheduling this hearing and for including the bills that have been introduced from this side of the aisle. The bipartisan commitment that Sonny had for so many years is still with us, although I want to warn you your confidence may be too deep. When you leave for a few minutes, I may ask Sonny for unanimous consent request to restore him as chair or
Mr. MONTGOMERY. No, no.
Mr. FILNER. In that case, I will take it by unanimous consent, Sonny.
Mr. QUINN. There must be some rule about having a quorum here or something. I do not know what.
Mr. FILNER. No, but by unanimous consent we have dispensed with that one. So have a good vote, Mr.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Take my time, in other words.
Mr. FILNER (continuing). Mr. Chairman, and we will see you when you get back. [Laughter.]
I do want to stress that this is a legislative hearing to look at the bills that have been put forward as works in progress really, to determine what is good about them, what causes problems, what ought to be added to strengthen them.
These bills that have been introduced, some by myself, some by others, are not cast in stone, and I think we share a goal here to develop the best possible benefits and programs four our Nation's veterans, and so all of the comments of the witnesses will enable us to do that much better.
Last year a Supreme Court ruling, Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, unintentionally eliminated a portion of the job protection we have provided for 50 years for people who serve in the Reserves and National Guard. Because of this decision, citizen soldiers, who are also state employees, are at risk of not being restored to their civilian jobs following their military service.
H.R. 166, the Veterans Job Protection Act, would restore reemployment protection for these individuals by making it clear that states must obey the law and reestablish these men and women in their state jobs when they return from their military duties.
H.R. 167, the Veterans Training and Employment Bill of Rights Act, would provide that service disabled veterans and veterans who serve in combat areas would be first in line for federally-funded training related services and programs.
I want to stress here for the benefit of officials, especially in the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, that this preference would only apply to veterans who also meet the eligibility criteria for these programs.
Under current law, veterans are sometimes underserved by national programs, such as the Job Training Partnership Act. Veterans service organizations have told us, for example, that program managers sometimes turn veterans away from JTPA Dislocated Workers Programs because they mistakenly assume that veterans receive the same services from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My bill would restore our commitment and reinforce that commitment to provide special training assistance for certain veterans an make it clear that eligible veterans have earned, have earned a place in the front of the line.
Additionally, there are provisions which change the contract threshold, the dollar threshold, for making reports, and I know that has some discussion, and I look forward to hearing your comments on that.
This bill would also establish the first effective appeals process for veterans who believe that their rights have been violated under certain veterans employment related programs.
H.R. 167 would require the Secretary of Labor to assist veterans who think federal contractors have not met their obligation to hire veterans. The Secretary must also assist veterans who believe they were not given preference for enrollment in federal training programs.
Additionally, a veteran can file complaint directly with the district court.
Finally, H.R. 759 would provide a 10 percent increase in benefits provided under the Montgomery GI Bill, and a 10 percent increase in the education benefits provided under Chapter 35, Title 38, U.S. Code, which pays education benefits to the widows, orphans, spouses, and children of 100 percent service disabled veterans.
As we have heard the Chairman say, it has been too long since benefits paid under these programs have been increased, and I am disappointed with the budget agreement that we are finalizing in the Congress does not include an increase for these programs.
But my goal today is to build a record, a record which will demonstrate the need for increases in the education benefits earned by our Nation's veterans. This record will be shared with the administration and our congressional colleagues with hopefully an increase as soon as possible, hopefully in fiscal year 1999.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We thank the witnesses for joining us today. As Chairman Quinn stated, we do have a special welcome for our first witness, the Honorable Sonny Montgomery, who is, of course, the father of today's GI Bill. Without his commitment and leadership, this bill simply would not be available for the fine men and women who serve in America's Armed Forces.
And, of course, everything else I said today the Chairman knows he taught me, and I thank him for his friendship and his mentorship and for his guidance personally and for our veterans around the country.
Chairman Montgomery, it is a pleasure to have you. You are the first witness, and we look forward to hearing from you.
STATEMENT OF HON. G.V. (SONNY) MONTGOMERY, FORMER CHAIRMAN, HOUSE VETERANS' AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Thank you very much, Mr. Acting Chairman. It is a pleasure to be back here. I especially like this great room because it has got some wonderful portraits that are hanging in this great hall.
Bob, I am not particularly anxious to be the Chairman again. Bob Stump is doing a wonderful job. I would like to implement your bill that increases the benefits for the GI Bill. I see the Chairman is getting back in right now, so we will have to pass that by. [Laughter.]
Mr. FILNER. The agreement was he would leave when other people testified, not when I was testifying. [Laughter.]
Mr. QUINN. What did you do to me?
Mr. MONTGOMERY. You got back too soon.
Mr. Chairman, thanks for starting on time. I notice out of habit I just looked up at the clock and you were right on the target.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I want to thank Bob Filner for the work he is doing, and his activity and energy working in veterans programs. I thank him for introducing this bill, H.R. 759, and it is a pleasure to be here to talk about the GI Bill, which are educational benefits for our service personnel.
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for something and put on the record here today about you bringing telephones into the VA hospital rooms across the country. As I understand it, that program is moving ahead. You have got the Communication Workers of America involved to install these telephones from Buffalo to Jackson, MS, in these rooms, and you know, a veteran made the first call on those private telephones to the VA hospital in Jacksonville.
We probably made a mistake. We had an old veteran there from World War I, and he kept saying, ''What's going on here? What's going on here?''
I said, ''You are making history. Just answer the phone.''
But thank you again, Jack. I assume that program is still moving ahead.
Mr. QUINN. Sonny, it is going just great. We have almost completed all but, I think, three or four hospitals. We have moved into the next phase now with the Communication Workers where we are trying to get some computers available to them to work with our handicapped veterans so that they can have access in their homes to schooling and all kinds of other opportunities.
Thank you for the kind words.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Well, that is a wonderful thing you did, and I wanted it on the record.
I will testify about the Bob Filner bill, H.R. 759, which would increase the benefits in our educational program by 10 percent, and I will do all I can to see that this bill is enacted.
I also want to mention that Lane Evans, who is the Ranking Member of this committee, as well as Bob Stump, were both co-authors of the Montgomery GI Bill. In fact, Lane Evans was the one who introduced the legislation that named it the Montgomery GI Bill.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC What is wrong with educating our youth? That was the question that I asked the late Senator John Tower back in 1984 during the conference on the defense authorization bill. He did not particularly like the idea of a new GI Bill which was in the DOD authorization, and, Mr. Chairman, many people here today in back of me were part of the effort to pass that GI Bill back in 1984. I want to thank my good friends who are here for what they have done to help our veterans.
But as I recall on this bill that we introduced, most of the Nation's leaders did not support the bill. We did have the community colleges. We had the military service chiefs, and we had the service organizations who were on our side.
I even arranged for C rations and MREs to be brought into the conference at midnight just to show our opponents that we planned to stick with it. So if you have ever tasted C rations in the middle of the night, you know we really were committed to get something done on the educational benefits.
The Armed Services, Mr. Chairman, were in deep trouble. We had a lot of problems in the Army. It had some real problems with young men and women coming into the service, and in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the All Volunteer Force was just getting started, and we were not getting smart, motivated, young men and women. They just were not coming into the military service.
There were many disparate problems. About half of these people who signed up for the service dropped out before they completed the term of service, and we changed the training manuals geared so that they could read at the fifth and sixth grade reading levels. The Army was in real trouble.
We began working on the GI Bill, the new one, in 1980. We decided this program could solve three problems. First, it would bring responsible, ambitious young people into the military, thereby improving the national security.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And, second, it would enable these young people to earn the money they needed to pay college costs.
And, third, it would help save the all volunteer system which had just been started.
It was 2:30 in the morning. I bring this up because it was of interest, how we were able to get the GI Bill. It was 2:30 in the morning. We weren't making much progress, and I finally said to Senator Tower, ''You know, Senator, if I packaged this program like a missile, shaped it in a cone, filled it with gunpowder and stuck a fuse on it where it would blow up the world, it would pass this conference in a minute,'' and that was true.
The Senator had never seen a weapon system he did not like. So we started moving, and we had the proxy vote, and about 3 o'clock we were able to pass this new GI Bill.
As you said, June 30 we celebrated its 12th birthday. The GI Bill now has two million young Americans who have signed up for the program and are using the benefits. It has really, as you have mentioned, proven to be a powerful, cost effective recruiting and retention tool for the Armed Services.
We must keep the GI Bill strong so that it can continue to fulfill its purposes as an effective recruiting tool. We have to bring bright young men and women into the service, and to do that you have to improve the educational benefits.
The primary purpose of the GI Bill is to assist in readjustment of members of the Armed Forces to civilian life after their separation from military service. I am particularly worried about this aspect of the program because the cost of education has gone up 100 percent since 1985. The benefits have gone up about 42 percent.
So the benefits need to be increased. If this does not happen, we have got some real problems, and I hope that the Congress and the administration will see that we are able to increase the GI benefits.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now, it is important that this bill be more lucrative than other government programs, and I give you an example. Americorps is almost as lucrative as the Montgomery GI Bill, and it really does not have that much obligation. I am not talking against Americorps. I voted for it every time in the Congress, but recipients of Americorps can earn educational benefits up to $9,000 for 2 years, and they do not have to leave home. They can get these educational benefits earned right in their home communities.
Under the Montgomery GI Bill, it is around $12,000 for 2 years, and quite frankly, some of these young men and women are going to end up in Bosnia. They cannot stay at home.
I am also concerned that only about 40 percent of the veterans who are eligible to use the Montgomery GI Bill are actually using these benefits. One reason, the economy is good. People are going out and getting jobs. They say, ''I do not need more education,'' after they get out of the service. They get a job driving a truck for $35,000 a year, and they have the educational benefits, and they do not use them.
The other reason is, which is very important and why I am here today, I believe the smallness of the benefit level is keeping our young people from going to school under the GI Bill. It is just not enough to help them.
I do understand pay-go prevents enactment of this legislation this year. I hope, however, this hearing will enable the subcommittee to build a record that you can provide to the administration. Then when decisions are being made about the President's budget request for fiscal year 1999 and priorities are being established, I hope you will urge the administration to recommend increases in the educational programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Thank you for this opportunity. This is a great committee. One of the highlights of my life was serving as a member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and I thank you for giving me this opportunity.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much, Sonny.
I would dare say that the highlights of most of us on the committee and the subcommittee have been to serve with you, as well, when you were the Chairman and the Ranking Member here, believe me.
We did not ask our colleagues who came in a few minutes late this morning if they have any opening remarks or questions for Mr. Montgomery while he is here, but as you prepare those, Sonny, I just want to ask your advice on something.
You and I talk often outside of the committee rooms and here on the Hill when we have a chance. Your point, I think, emphasizing the importance of education is a buzz word that is going around here with the administration and on the Hill, both sides of the aisle, in the House, in the Senate. Education is a priority, education is a priority, and yet both in the administration's request for funding and in some of the bills that are making their way through the House and the Senate, we've ignored the whole discussion of the Montgomery Bill and its importance to education.
In the closing of your remarks, you just said you hoped that the subcommittee could put together a plan to approach the administration of its importance. I would be interested in any advice that you have for us along the lines of your ''C'' ration idea and your idea to package the plan as a missile for Senator Tower.
I think together, and I know Bob and I, and the members of the subcommittee here, are interested in how we best do that. Clearly, education is a top priority of the administration, and it is, I think, for a lot of members here in the House and on our subcommittee and our full committee.
So anything that you may be able to offer in that regard would be important, and I do not know if you have any comments this morning for that, but I would like to keep our discussion ongoing into the next 4 or 5 months if we can.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MONTGOMERY. I will be brief. President Clinton called me when he was working on the Americorps and said, ''We would like to have you support these education benefits.''
And I said, ''Mr. President, it cannot be as much as the GI Bill where you obligate these young men and women to march off to serve their country, yet you're coming up with Americorps.''
So we worked out about the $9,000 for 2 years versus the little higher figure for the GI Bill. I think it is a matter of selling the President of the United States. I do not think he is opposed to it.
This morning I talked to the Acting Secretary of the Veterans Department, Hershel Gober. He basically agrees that he would be in a position to help us get these benefits up.
They are just not enough. We have to get these young men and women to use these educational benefits. They are not going much further than a truck driver if they do not take advantage of the benefits, and only 40 percent of them are using them today.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Sonny. Thanks very much.
Mr. FILNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I thank you so much, Sonny, for being here. You notice that the change on this committee is so rapid that all the members of the subcommittee did not have the pleasure to serve with you as Chairman. That has been the change. So your telling of the history of the Montgomery GI Bill is really important, as of course, the history is being lost with the turnover in the Congress.
As you know, the majority of the new members elected in the 1990s have not had military service, and the education is really necessary. We have to have a new level of or a new kind of task in front of us as members of this committee. It is not the same as when you were chair and took care of things.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Most people have to be educated about it, and with the budget crunch, the same level of agreement with our recommendations is not there. So I think the Chairman emphasize our informal talks with you in the past and in the future, and I hope you remain available for that as we figure out a strategy to keep our commitment to our Nation's veterans.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Thank you.
The key to it, the more I look at this, is to get the administration to request this additional funding. It would be hard right now in the Congress with the shortage of funds to try to implement the 10 percent, and the veterans' budget has been increased. It is one of the few that has not taken any heavy licks.
So I think that the right track would be if we could get the President, and as far as I can tell, he has no objections. It is just getting the word to the right people to submit it.
Mr. QUINN. Maybe Bob what we could do, you and I and members of the full subcommittee here, is meet with the Under Secretary, who I understand will be the new Secretary, as he has been nominated by the President, maybe in these next few weeks, even before his confirmation. If we could get his ear, you and I and other members of the subcommittee, along with Sonny's advice, to let him know where we stand on that might be helpful early.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. The program is in trouble when you have got only 40 percent of them using it, and they have to find other loans or grants or scholarships to go ahead and complete their education. They can make it in a community college, but in a 4-year college they have got a problem.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Sonny.
We have been joined by the Ranking Member, Lane Evans, a good friend of Sonny's, I know, from the full subcommittee. Mr. Evans, any opening remarks?
Mr. EVANS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC No real opening remarks other than to welcome Sonny back. We appreciate your leadership. Every time I turn on a football game it is good to hear the Montgomery GI Bill is part of the Army's recruiting strategy.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. I would have no problem making it the Montgomery-Evans bill. You had a lot to do with naming it. I do not know why you did not put your name in there because you were the chief sponsor when we moved this through, and I mentioned earlier what you had done for the bill.
Mr. EVANS. Well, no, we will leave the bill to be called the Montgomery GI Bill, but the increase, we hope to get the Evans increase passed. [Laughter.]
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Thank you.
Mr. EVANS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Lane.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. CIRO RODRIGUEZ
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Let me apologize for being late, and I am going to have to apologize for having to leave. I supposedly have a press conference at 10 o'clock.
But I do want to thank you for being here, and I know you have a lot of work, and you delivered a lot for our veterans back at home, and I want to thank you for the service that you have provided.
I know that one of the dilemmas that we encounter in South Texas, I have about 53,000 veterans in my District, and one of the difficulties, and I know you have battled this area, about the disproportionate share that is allocated to some where, where we have what some people call the winter birds or the snow birds that come south to take advantage of the weather in Texas and in the South.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have started to begin to deal with that, but I wondered if you had any suggestions as to how we can continue to make sure the resources, you know, follow the veterans.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Basically we used to use the term that the veterans seemed to be following the sun. They are moving into Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada, other states.
It is a problem, Mr. Chairman, you are going to have to face down the line here, if you move some of the facilities closer to where the veterans are, and this committee will have to make some of those decisions. It is a problem.
I want to congratulate you and the other gentleman from Texas for seeking to get on the Veterans' Committee. I think it is one of the most important committees in the House of Representatives. I was here 30 years, and I enjoyed every day serving on this committee and helping those folks who march off to war to help their country. I do not think there is any better cause.
So thank you.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much, and I apologize for having to leave.
Mr. QUINN. Well, we are glad to have you here. Mr. Mascara.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. FRANK MASCARA
Mr. MASCARA. Good morning, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you for calling this hearing to review a number of good bills which will certainly benefit veterans.
I share the hope that working together we will ultimately be able to report them out of the subcommittee.
I am particularly happy to see my former leader and mentor, I must say, the Honorable Sonny Montgomery. I am extremely pleased that he has agreed to lend his weight as Congress' premier proponent of veterans to the effort of increasing the Montgomery GI benefits by 10 percent.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Like you, Sonny, I am disappointed that the administration did not include veterans in their educational proposals. This badly needed increase in GI benefits, as well as other bills we are considering today to insure veterans are given top priority in federal job training, and employment programs would go a long way toward seeing that veterans are appropriately included in the major drive to ensure all Americans receive the education they need to be able to compete in the economy as we go into the next century.
I also want to praise my new leader on the subcommittee, Ranking Member Bob Filner, for once again championing veterans' employment rights and trying to make sure federal job training and employment officials afford veterans the priority service that they certainly deserve.
I stand ready to work with you, Bob, and Chairman Quinn, and you, Sonny, and it is so good to see you again, to see that this becomes possible.
And thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Congressman Mascara appears on p. 90.]
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much. Mr. Reyes.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. SILVESTRE REYES
Mr. REYES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I do have a statement for the record, but I would like to, as well, associate myself with the remarks of all the panel here in expressing appreciation for your many years of hard work on behalf of the veterans.
I feel somewhat cheated that I did not have an opportunity to serve with you, and so I cannot call myself to call you Sonny. I will call you Congressman Montgomery, but I would like to thank you. You know, we have chatted informally, and you have been very gracious in sharing your expertise with, in particular, us freshmen.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I also wanted to apologize for being late, but we were in a meeting with the Secretary designee, Secretary Gober, about some other issues, including veterans' health care, and I think that if we are going to be able to make a difference, if we are going to be able to impact our ability to provide not only educational service, but medical service benefits for our veterans, we are all going to have to work together in a bipartisan fashion.
I think that has been one of the high marks of my initial term here, is the fact that we are working in a bipartisan manner for the benefit of our veterans, and I really would hope that through the efforts of Congressman Montgomery, the Chairman, the Ranking Member, that you would just give us our directives or marching orders, as it were, and we will do everything we can to make a difference for our veterans.
I think for too long now we have had a situation where veterans' rights and benefits have slowly been eroding right before our very eyes, and if anyone can make a difference, it should be use.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. Let me comment.
Mr. QUINN. Certainly, Sonny.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. To the gentleman from Texas, we have had some informal talks, and I appreciate the interest you have shown, and to Frank. We have been close friends, and you have always come to the subcommittee meetings, and I see you are still doing the same thing. You have a great interest for our veterans, and I thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Sonny.
And, Mr. Reyes, one of the things you talked about with that bipartisan nature for us to solve these problems I think is absolutely on target, and one of the hallmarks of Sonny Montgomery's tenure when he was Chairman and then Ranking Member, and Bob Stump's initiatives is that we act in a bipartisan way on this subcommittee and the full committee.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Evans and I right at the moment have an important bill regarding land mines where we are both working both sides of the aisle in a bipartisan way to get fruition and closing to that. So I think you are absolutely on target. It is the perfect committee for that.
Sonny, before we release you here, I just want to check with Bob to see if he has any closing remarks.
Mr. FILNER. Can you still call up Mr. Clinton? Will he take your call, Mr. Montgomery?
Mr. MONTGOMERY. President Clinton?
Mr. FILNER. Yes.
Mr. MONTGOMERY. I call him Mr. President. I think he would if I did that.
Mr. FILNER. I am just looking at the cost figures for the very modest 10 percent, and most of the testimony is that it should be higher. The 10 percent over 5 years, you know, costs less than $200 million.
We are talking on the table now they are negotiating a $35 billion increase in education. I mean the President is going to get $35 billion over 5 years, right? I mean, that is the agreement. Two hundred million out of that does not seem too much to ask.
It seems to me that we ought to get it in here now, and anybody in the audience who is part of the administration, it just does not seem that big a part of what has already been agreed to.
I know there is argument of whether there should be $31 billion or $35 billion, but let this side of the aisle say we will go up another $200 million for this package. I just do not understand the problems with it, given the meaning for it, the return on the investment, and where it fits into the broader budget context.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MONTGOMERY. Bob, you make a good point. The problem is we just have not sold the program enough for some reason, and I will take part of the blame, but it is working well, but we just have not gotten the word to the right people, and that happens in government.
I do not know. We will just have to do a better job.
Mr. FILNER. All right. We will keep trying. Thank you, sir.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Sonny. Thanks very much for your time this morning, and you know, as always, you are welcome always at this subcommittee and our full committee. Thank you very much, and thanks to the members.
Our second panel is the Honorable Al Borrego, who is the Acting Assistant Secretary at the Veterans Employment and Training in the Department of Labor, accompanied by Ms. Susan Webman. If you would please come forward, we will be thrilled to hear your testimony this morning.
STATEMENT OF HON. AL BORREGO, ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY, VETERANS' EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR; ACCOMPANIED BY SUSAN WEBMAN, ESQ., COUNSEL FOR LABOR-MANAGEMENT LAWS, OFFICE OF THE SOLICITOR
Mr. BORREGO. Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the subcommittee, it is a great pleasure to appear before you today to discuss several bills which this subcommittee is considering.
And before I continue, I would like to say thank you for inviting us. We have initiated dialogue inside our department. We have deepened our relationship that we have already had with some other agencies, and we have initiated dialogues with other agencies that we should have been talking to before and were not, and that is a dialogue that will continue, and this hearing really initiated that effort. So thank you for that.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The first bill I wish to discuss is H.R. 166, the Veterans' Job Protection Act. Of course, we share your interest in seeing that veterans have adequate remedies in the event a state violates the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The absence of prompt and effective enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act could make our goal of early resolution of disputes more difficult to achieve.
The administration is concerned that the Seminole Tribe decision by the Supreme Court may adversely affect enforcement of the Act, and we, at the Labor Department, are cognizant of that in dealing with cases involving an employee of a state.
The Seminole Tribe decision, however, does not relieve the states of their obligations under the Act, nor does it preclude the Department of Labor from carrying out its responsibilities under the Act, nor do we believe it impacts upon political subdivisions of the state.
The stated purpose of H.R. 166 is to clarify the conditions under which an action may be brought against a state to enforce the provisions of the Act. The bill has refocused the administration's attention on dealing with the impact of the Seminole Tribe decision on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and other programs affected by the decision.
H.R. 166 provides one possible means to resolve the issue raised by the Seminole Tribe decision. We would like to work with your staff on specific provisions in the bill with the goal of helping you to formulate legislation that may better gain wide support.
The second bill we have been asked to comment on is H.R. 167, the Veterans Training and Employment Bill of Rights Act of 1997. Section 2 of this bill would extend priority of service to veterans in any federally-funded workforce preparation, development, or delivery program or service if the person otherwise meets the eligibility requirements for the program.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Department of Labor has operated under a priority of service mandate in Wagner-Peyser. While similar requirements do not exist in other federally-funded programs, we believe that all program eligible veterans do receive their fair share of services within federally-funded workforce preparation, development, and delivery systems.
The Nation's principal federally-funded workforce development program, the Job Training Partnership Act, is a discretionary program that serves low income youth and adults, and dislocated workers who have lost their jobs due to a plant closing or layoff. Most Job Training Partnership Act funds are distributed by formula to states and local service delivery areas who make decisions on specific groups of individuals to be served within statutory eligibility guidelines.
Under the Job Training Partnership Act program for low income adults, the law requires that 65 percent of the participants be ''hard-to-serve'' individuals, such as those who are school dropouts, basic skills deficient, recipients of cash welfare payments, or individuals with disabilities. Under these targeting requirements enacted by Congress in 1992, veterans who have these labor market disadvantages are accorded appropriate attention.
In addition, the ''individuals with a disability'' category, an acknowledged barrier to employment, qualifies veterans with a service-connected disability for targeted service.
Moreover, local delivery areas have the authority under existing law to petition the governor to add veterans to the list of ''hard-to-serve'' individuals. We support this flexible approach because it allows the local delivery areas to work in partnership with the Federal Government in providing services to veterans.
The Department of Labor is working hard to insure that its programs are doing a good job of serving veterans. For example, the Job Training Partnership Act as it is currently structured served about 52,000 veterans in adult and youth grant programs in the year ending on June 30, 1996. Of these 38,000 were located in the Dislocated Worker Program. This represents about 14 percent of all individuals served in the Dislocated Worker Program, which is slightly higher than the total percentage of veterans in the overall workforce.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In addition, 41 percent of these were Vietnam-era veterans.
You also asked for comments concerning the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Improvement Act of 1997. That draft bill would address the complex issue of extraterritorial application of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.
Conceptually we support this bill. We would appreciate working with your staff to make sure these provisions are clear and effective.
We also support Sections 3 and 4 of this bill since they both increase protections for veterans in the work place.
H.R. 759 and H.R. 1877 fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veterans Affairs and would best be addressed by representatives from that department.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my prepared remarks, and I would like to thank the subcommittee for the opportunity to discuss this proposed legislation with you. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or any member of the subcommittee may have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Borrego appears on p. 92.]
Mr. FILNER (presiding). Thank you, sir, and we congratulate you on your position and look forward to working with you as Assistant Secretary.
We, I think, have a history on this subcommittee of being concerned over whether the veterans' programs within the Department of Labor receive their fair attention, and we want you to know that we stand very strongly behind them, and any efforts by you to make sure within the department they get their recognition they deserve we will certainly support.
Mr. BORREGO. Thank you, sir.
Mr. QUINN. I had said in my opening remarks that program managers have been, I will use the word ''accused.'' I do not really mean it that strong, but testimony from veterans and their organizations has said that program managers sometimes turn away veterans from the JTPA Programs because they assume that veterans are being handled in other programs.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And although you do not seem to say that we need this bill, H.R. 167, it seems that we have to send the message in some way through your department that we do have a commitment to veterans, and that we want to make sure that everybody understands they have earned a place at the head of the line.
And I would just like your comments on that, I guess.
Mr. BORREGO. Yes, sir, I have heard that. We handle veterans. The Employment and Training Administration handles Job Training Partnership Act. What I can tell you is this. I have met with the Secretary, had a one-on-one meeting with her when she first came on to talk about our program.
As I have talked about our programs, she would finish sentences for me. The Secretary is very knowledgeable about our agency, about veterans. They were one of her constituency groups before she came to the department, and she knows the veterans community, and I know that we have her support.
As I mentioned earlier, we have opened up a dialogue with an agency we should have been talking to a long time ago. We have been focusing on the employment service side with that agency, and we started talking about JTPA.
And I think over time, as we continue this dialogue, there will continue to be improvements, but this dialogue has just opened. They know we are there. They know we are interested in veterans, and I think in talking with them we have made some initial steps, but I think we need to do better to make sure that continues, and we know you do the oversight and will be asking us in the future about our progress.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you.
I have talked with the Secretary about some of this and will continue to do so. I would be a little worried if somebody was always finishing my sentences, by the way. [Laughter.]
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Bob.
When you say the Secretary's constituency was veterans before that, could you just tell me how so?
Mr. BORREGO. She came from the Office of Public Liaison, and veterans were one of the constituency groups that she worked with, and she attended a lot of the interagency veterans meetings.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you.
Now, the next is a sort of mechanical housekeeping question, and I think you know it is coming.
Mr. BORREGO. Yes, sir.
Mr. QUINN. But I want to ask it, I guess, and ask your help to help you more than anything else. We just received your testimony, of course, early this morning. This hearing was scheduled for June 25, a few weeks ago.
I understand that the Secretary is new in the job and getting everybody together, but somewhere along the line could I receive something in writing for the benefit of the rest of the members on what took testimony so long to get here, and is there a way we can help you better prepare for that?
Mr. EVANS. Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Sure.
Mr. EVANS. I also want to weigh in in that regard on our side because it has been the custom of this committee to have the testimony at least delivered by five o'clock the night before, which is not a heck of a lot of time, but I know we also share that same concern.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Lane.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. BORREGO. Mr. Chairman, Congressman Evans, members of the committee, I do apologize. Normally we sneak in right underneath the wire.
This generated, as you might understand, very intense discussions and lots of discussions about single words. There is no excuse for bringing it in this late. I know it got to you this morning, and I was calling to see if you had received it, and I know that it gives us the responsibility to be responsive to any questions that the committee may have after they have had time to review my statement. Whether they are informal or written, I will make sure that we respond very quickly.
Mr. QUINN. Sure. Thank you very much. I appreciate that, and again, this is not a surprise to you.
Mr. BORREGO. I understand.
Mr. QUINN. With Mr. Evans and myself, if you could ask the Secretary to write us something about that, we would appreciate something in writing.
Mr. BORREGO. Yes, sir.
Mr. QUINN. Either an explanation or a way we can help her or you or the department better. We will do that, too, but I think we need something in writing.
Mr. BORREGO. Yes, sir.
Mr. QUINN. Okay. Mr. Filner.
Mr. FILNER. Just let me follow up my previous statement. I know that if you come to testify or engage with us, you are part of a department and part of the administration, and yet we want your area to have legitimate say in the policy councils of the Department of Labor, and we are going to keep saying that.
I assume if we ask you to report about that, you will say it is fine, but we want you to know that we are very concerned about the level of support for veterans programs in the Department of Labor, and we will support you in enhancing that, and we also, as you know, will be looking at it.
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There has been discussion over the years of moving some of those programs into the VA, and I guess unless we hear that the kind of support that you need is forthcoming, that kind of discussion will accelerate.
So we want you to play an important role in the department and in the administration, and we will make sure that we provide that support to do that.
Mr. BORREGO. Thank you, Mr. Congressman.
Veterans are best served when we all work together, and I appreciate your support. I really do. Thank you.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Evans, questions for the panel?
Mr. EVANS. Yes, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
In your testimony you noted that 14 percent of the individuals being served under the JTPA Program for dislocated workers were veterans, but what we need to know, I think, is what percentage of dislocated workers are veterans, and then we will know if veterans are being effectively served by this program.
Do you have that information?
Mr. BORREGO. Congressman Evans, my understanding is that the Employment and Training Administration only collects data on participants. Those are the people that are actually enrolled in the programs. I have looked for and have not found any source of data for what the eligible pool is.
So the only statistics we have at the department are participants, people that are actually enrolled in the program. As far as I can tell, no one is collecting data on applicants.
Mr. EVANS. In your testimony you also state that veterans receive their fair share of services within federally-funded workforce preparation programs. On what factual or statistical information do you base that statement?
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC For example, 20 percent of all low income individuals are veterans. Can you demonstrate that 20 percent of the available training opportunities for low income individuals are going to veterans?
Mr. BORREGO. In the dislocated programs, 14 percent were veterans. The national figures, which is the only figures that I have seen, and I have been asking for others, December BLS figures showed veterans to be about 11 percent of the labor force.
Mr. EVANS. Eleven percent?
Mr. BORREGO. Yes. Yes, sir. Those were December BLS figures.
For the older persons, it was 14 percent for veterans. A quick calculation, and I may have calculated wrong, showed the older veterans' portion of the labor force at about 8 percent.
In the disadvantaged, the disadvantaged is geared predominantly and said very simply for people on welfare and multiple barriers to employment, for example, no high school diploma. In that category veterans are not as disadvantaged as others. Of the registrants to the Employment Service only about 40,000 out of the 2.5 million veterans are on welfare.
There the percentage for veterans is 7 percent, but veterans do not tend to be as disadvantaged as people on welfare with the multiple barriers.
Given those broad statistics, and I agree with you they are too broad and do not address local areas where there may be higher percentages of veterans, but that is all that I am aware of that we have available to us.
Mr. FILNER. Will the gentleman yield for a minute?
Mr. EVANS. Sure.
Mr. FILNER. I am very surprised that we cannot answer the question that Mr. Evans raised, his first question, that is, what percentage of the dislocated workforce are veterans. Is that the exact question?
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I mean somewhere in this government with all of the statistics that we collect, surely we must have an answer to that question and give some meaning to your 14 percent, and if you don't have, if somebody does not have that data somewhere, the VA does not have it or you do not have it or the Census Department does not have it, it seems to me the first thing you should do is try to get that.
I mean the notion of 14 percent is meaningless without the answer to your question. So at least if we do not have the answer, you ought to go find it.
Mr. BORREGO. I agree with you.
Mr. FILNER. And tell us what you need to go find it so we can help.
Mr. BORREGO. I have been asking, and we have asked. We have had conversations with committee staff, and I have looked for data, and I have not found any, and I have asked. I will continue to search. I will call BLS and anyone else that keeps statistics. I have not found any.
Mr. FILNER. Well, let's find it somewhere.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Filner, will you yield on Mr. Evans' time?
Mr. FILNER. Yes, sir.
Mr. QUINN. Your efforts have been appreciated. If I may, I think what Bob is just saying is that if we can help you get that information, let us add the weight of this subcommittee or the full committee. Let us help you ask the right people for that information, and if it takes a letter from us on the subcommittee to you or to whoever gets that information, please ask us to help you, and we will help you do that.
Mr. BORREGO. Absolutely, yes, sir.
Mr. QUINN. Would the gentleman yield further? Mr. Evans, would you yield?
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. EVANS. I yield back my time actually.
Mr. QUINN. Okay. The gentleman yields back his time.
Mr. MASCARA. As a former county controller and county commissioner for a lot of years, I ran the old Manpower Program, the CETA Program, in fact, I came before Congress and testified about JPTA when it was first being considered.
Part of the problem is, gentlemen, the old CETA program was funded to serve about 15 percent of the people who needed to be served, and there was a lot of shouting and beating of the chest about JPTA which decreased from 15 percent of the funding to serve all of the people that needed to be served to 7.5 percent of the money.
I just say that to let you know there is not enough money out there to begin with. So my question really is after looking at some of this information, are you telling me because it did not happen in the county that I served as a commissioner that somehow veterans were not taken care of through the JPTA Program in counties throughout this country, and that somehow we need to reduce that and to include it in H.R. 167 to make sure that they are serviced?
Because I do not know of anything in the old CETA or the JPTA that precluded that we should not give service to veterans. Is there something wrong with the system now that somehow the people who are responsible for running the Jobs Training Partnership Act are not serving our veterans?
Mr. BORREGO. From our perspective, what we are saying is as currently structured it is serving veterans, and at the national level using national statistics, while agreeing with the committee that they may not necessarily give us the whole picture, that it looks like veterans are being served under the current system.
So the department is saying that veterans are being served under the current system.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MASCARA. And the reason I want to know is that the gentleman who ran it for me is still running it. I want to go back home and say, ''What's going on and is there something I missed during my 15 years tenure with the County of Washington back in Pennsylvania?''
Mr. BORREGO. And the department's position is that veterans are being adequately served. What I have heard anecdotally, again, without the hard numbers, is that in areas there may be pockets where the number of, for example, dislocated veterans is very high and proportionately that share is not being served by the program, but I have heard it anecdotally, and I have not seen any numbers, and the numbers are not being collected.
And I think that that is part of where I am hearing the drive to make changes.
Mr. MASCARA. Well, perhaps we could do more outreach. Perhaps we could use the veterans service organizations to spread that word and along with public service announcements to make sure that the veterans who are entitled to those benefits have knowledge of those programs.
Mr. BORREGO. Yes, sir.
Mr. MASCARA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Mascara.
I want to return to Mr. Evans' line of questioning just for a minute. A different kind of question, but the same idea.
You have given us the 14 percent number. Do you have any numbers outside of your area, Mr. Borrego, which is of veterans? Does the Labor Department keep statistics of how many veterans are enrolled in the rest of their programs?
Mr. BORREGO. I do not know. I do not know, but I will check when I get back.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Thank you.
And, Lane, what I am trying to get at is if we cannot get the number you asked for, it might be helpful for us outside of Mr. Borrego's area, which is veterans. Of all the Labor Department programs that are offered out there, can't we know how many veterans are involved in some of those other programs, at least percentage-wise? That might be helpful.
Mr. BORREGO. A good idea, sir.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you.
Mr. Filner or any other members, questions for this panel?
Mr. FILNER. No.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Evans, Mr. Mascara?
Thanks very much for your time here this morning.
Mr. BORREGO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. We appreciate your being here, and we look forward to those responses we asked for today.
Mr. BORREGO. Yes, sir.
Mr. QUINN. We will move to our third panel. Our third panel will be Ms. Celia Dollarhide, whom we have spoken with before here at the subcommittee in briefings, and she is joined by assistants this morning, Ms. June Schaeffer and Mr. Dean Gallin.
We appreciate your patience with us this morning. I think you were here this morning when I mentioned I may have to leave for just a few seconds here once or twice more this morning. None of my candidates have won so far this morning.
Thanks very much. You may begin.
STATEMENT OF CELIA DOLLARHIDE, DIRECTOR, EDUCATION SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; ACCOMPANIED BY JUNE SCHAEFFER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, EDUCATION, POLICY AND PROGRAM ADMINISTRATION; AND DEAN GALLIN, ESQ., DEPUTY ASSISTANT GENERAL COUNSEL
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. It is a pleasure to be here, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee to present VA's comments on a number of legislative proposals affecting our education benefits programs. These include H.R. 759, H.R. 1877, and a draft committee bill.
We agree with the intent of the provisions of these bills and are aware that the cumulative cost may be offset through appropriate savings provisions. We will provide the committee with the fiscal year 1998 and 5-year cost estimates of these bills.
OFFSET FOLIO 1 INSERT HERE
MAKES P. 20
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Those who are associated with the Veterans' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Programs have expressed growing concern that the financial benefits provided under these programs have not kept pace with the rapid growth in education costs in this country. We acknowledge and share that concern.
H.R. 759 would raise the basic monthly rate for full-time training by 10 percent under the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty Program to $470.66. The full-time rate under the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve Program would be increased to $223.56. The full-time rate under the Dependents' Educational Assistance Program would also be increased by 10 percent to $444 per month.
These increases would expand the buying power of these benefit programs and provide additional support to our students which they need in the face of rising educational costs to help them achieve their educational and career goals.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We would like to enhance the monetary assistance available. However, we in the department have been unable to identify a source of savings in other veterans' programs to fund the increases and have been hesitant to propose reducing the benefits of one program in favor of another.
H.R. 1877 would expand the Work-Study Program for our veteran students. Specifically, the bill would expand the use of work-study students to allow the support of any activity of a Federal Government department or agency, an institution of higher learning, a State or local government community service program, or any community program VA determines appropriate.
We support the concept of expanding the Work-Study Program as a means of maximizing the educational assistance benefits available to veterans. Officials at many institutions of higher learning, often understaffed, have indicated to us that they have numerous activities in which veteran work-study students could provide assistance.
However, these schools are severely limited in being able to place students in these positions due to existing statutory restrictions.
Next I will address the draft bill entitled the ''Veterans' Educational Benefits Act of 1997.'' Section 2 of that measure would increase the matching funds under the Veterans' Educational Assistance Program from $2 for each $1 contributed by the participant to $4, doubling the benefit.
Since the Veterans' Educational Assistance Program is funded by the Department of Defense, and since an offset would be needed for this proposal under pay-as-you-go scoring rules, VA defers to DOD's views in this matter.
Section 3 provides for scholarships at the rate of $40 per credit hour for certain veterans under the Veterans' Educational Assistance Program and the Montgomery GI Bill. We appreciate the ongoing congressional interest in promoting the use of education benefits in a way that results in attainment of the eligible person's desired educational, vocational or professional objective.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Historically, however, we have not favored singling out a class of veterans, but have sought uniform benefits for similarly circumstanced veterans-equal benefits for equal service. Therefore, we cannot support the proposal as drafted.
Section 4 would permit VA claimants, as well as certain non-VA entities, to transmit documents electronically over the digital signature of the submitter. The use of these electronic signatures would greatly facilitate claims processing. We strongly support this position.
Section 5 of this measure would bar from entitlement certain cadets or midshipmen at a service academy and certain Senior ROTC scholarship program participants. Under certain circumstances, a person may be ordered by the military to perform service because he or she breached an agreement with the Government. Based on our understanding of Section 5, it seems reasonable to prevent that person from receiving Montgomery GI Bill benefits for the same service he or she is required to perform as a result of the breach.
However, we think this provision may go too far in also barring honorable active duty service that is voluntarily performed following a determination by the Secretary concerned not to invoke the statutory remedy of ordering the individual to active duty for the breach of contract.
Nevertheless, if the intent is to use the Montgomery GI Bill bar as an alternative remedy for failure to honor the contract, we defer to the Department of Defense as to the need for and appropriateness of that additional remedy.
Section 6 would amend the law to exclude VA education benefits from consideration in making Department of Education grants and loans. Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity to fully consult with the Department of Education on this matter. In any case, we believe that this issue should be resolved in the context of the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Section 7 of the draft bill would amend the law to authorize VA education benefits for courses necessary to maintain or restore professional or vocational certification or proficiency. This amendment would permit those who are trained as professionals to use their VA education benefits to pursue courses necessary to remain current in their chosen profession.
It would also allow individuals to use these benefits to become recertified in areas in which they were previously trained. We support this section.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I will be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.
And I would also like to have my formal testimony placed in the record.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Dollarhide appears on p. 96.]
Mr. FILNER (presiding). Thank you very much, and we certainly appreciate your testimony today and your commitment to our veterans as Director of the Education Service.
Let me just ask you, and I am going to refer to Chairman Montgomery's statement that he made and which you were here for. Clearly, we as a committee and we in the Congress are subject to these pay-go rules in finding offsets, but you are not Congress. You are the administration. You are not subject to them in your recommendations, as I understand it.
That is, to say you support in concept, but because of pay-go you cannot fight for it, we want the administration to fight for these before it gets here, as Mr. Montgomery stated. That is, your recommendations ought to have those dollar amounts.
I am going to suggest that we are going to change your name from Dollarhide to Dollarfind and
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. DOLLARHIDE. I would like to.
Mr. FILNER (continuing). And find those dollars for us instead of hiding them from us.
But I do not understand, frankly, the hiding behind the pay-go as the administration position. The administration could fight for these dollars, put them in, and then, you know, let us work with them from there, unless I don't understand the budget law or something.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. As time has gone by, we have been concerned about the adequacy of the current level of payments under both the Montgomery GI Bill and the Dependents' Educational Assistance Program. However, we have been constrained in the department from recommending an increase in the benefit since we have to find savings or a way to fund the increase within the department's budget.
The Secretary has been unwilling to suggest terminating one veterans' program to fund an increase in another program, and this has been our difficulty.
We all are constrained by pay-go; that is why this is throughout the testimony. I appreciate what you are saying, Mr. Filner. I think there is concern that these increases would have to be funded in the department's existing budget.
Mr. FILNER. Yes. We just would urge you and we would strongly support you, I mean, both within the agency and then the Secretary dealing with the President or OMB or whoever you have to deal with to increase that. That is the whole point.
I mean we do not want you to be playing off one against the other, and we are not asking you to. We want you to fight for an increase. I mean, that seems to me that is part of what your job has to be, and we know of stories of Secretary Brown, you know, going into the President demanding that he not be cut at least, and we hope that that aggressiveness continues, and we want to make sure you know that we want to support that aggressiveness and whatever it is that you need to do to increase that pie instead of fighting over the crumbs of it.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Thank you.
Mr. FILNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Bob.
I apologize for leaving. Hopefully it may have been the last visit. I am not certain.
I have always been interested in eligibility for all federal programs, but in particular, obviously, veterans' programs. Can you comment briefly on how VA benefits are counted for eligibility and other federal programs?
I mean this gets to the point about not fighting against each other and what our thrust is here. Can you comment on that briefly?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. I am not exactly certain what you mean, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Well, there are a lot of other federal education programs out there. So that we are not pitting one against the other, in other words, when we are looking at VA benefits that an individual receives, does it hurt them or help them?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. I see. I thought we were still on pay-go.
Mr. QUINN. I am sorry.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. I am sorry.
Mr. QUINN. I left. I am sorry.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. I suspect you are talking about the scholarships and loans that may be available to our veteran students. We have received a number of inquiries, and veterans have expressed concern about the perception that they are not found eligible for a number of loan and grant programs that are administered by the Department of Education because GI Bill monies are factored into the means calculation for eligibility for those.
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have discussed this issue with the Department of Education, and of course, they are bound by existing statutes. We had indicated in our testimony possibly one way to get around this is with the Higher Education Act currently under consideration. Possibly this could be a way to attack it.
We are still dealing with the Department of Education as far as this is concerned.
Mr. QUINN. Are the discussions ongoing?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. I would say yes.
Mr. QUINN. I would say let us help you with that.
You know, I just got here for the tail-end of Bob's comments, that we want to be able to help you with those kinds of things, and if it is the statute that the Education Department is dealing with, we are the people who change those things. We are the people who adjust them and so on. If that is an area where we can be helpful, I am sure we want to be helpful.
Thank you for getting me to the right question.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. I am sorry.
Mr. QUINN. No, you were right on target. I was out of the room.
Mr. EVANS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I do not have any questions. I just wanted to thank Congressman Filner for introducing these pieces of legislation, and also thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding hearings on these issues. We appreciate that bipartisan support.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Lane.
Mr. MASCARA. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would like to continue to pursue the questioning as it relates to cost because when I first heard my colleague, Mr. Filner, speak to our former colleague, Mr. Montgomery, about phoning up the President and whether he could still reach the President and ask for $200 million, I accepted that as some number that meant something, but I guess you were just picking some number out of the air?
Mr. FILNER. No, that is the estimate for the 10 percent increase.
Mr. MASCARA. All right. Then that is great.
Then I will go on to your testimony, Ms. Dollarhide. On page 2, the first paragraph, the last sentence, where you say, ''We will be providing the committee with the FY '98 and five-year cost estimates of these bills as soon as they are available.''
Are we talking about the same kind of money? My colleague says $200 million. He wanted Sonny to call the President. You do not have figures or cost estimates?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. We could get them to you very shortly. We have costed each aspect of the bill, and it is still being finalized within the department.
Mr. MASCARA. So I applaud my colleague for having numbers that are not available to us through the statement, and I read some of this last night, and I did not see any numbers, and then Congressman Filner said $200 million, and I said, boy, he really knows what he is talking about or he was just trying to ask Sonny to get some money from the President to fund this 10 percent increase.
So you do not know?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. No.
Mr. FILNER. If the gentleman will yield.
Mr. MASCARA. Yes.
Mr. FILNER. This is from the CBO, and if I am going to send Mr. Montgomery to the President, he is going to have to fax. So these are accurate figures.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MASCARA. Good. Thank you, Mr. Filner.
I have no further questions.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Mascara.
Now might be a good time since we are back to this whole discussion of having us go to the President. I would like to submit for the record a letter, dated February 25, signed by Bob Stump and Lane Evans that was sent to the President that asks him to do exactly that. This 2-page letter lays out where the Montgomery bill is and how it is a shortfall with public and private education and what we need to make up the difference, as Sonny pointed out in his original testimony.
But a letter was sent from the full committee on February 25, and since we discussed that earlier, I would like to submit that as part of today's record.
[The letter appears on p. 88.]
Mr. QUINN. I have no further questions of this panel. Mr. Filner or Mr. Mascara, further questions?
Thank you very much.
Good morning, everybody. Gentlemen, how are you? It is good to have you back with us this morning, a repeat performance. I mentioned in the hallway earlier today it seems like you are all saved until the last panel, and I am certain the idea was to save our best for last.
One of these mornings we are going to just put everybody on the edge and have you all go first to see how the rest of the panels go and if their testimony changes during the morning because you have had a chance to begin.
We sincerely appreciate your time waiting during this hearing this morning. Your input is very, very important to all of our bills and all the legislation. I know I speak for Mr. Filner and all of the subcommittee members when we say that.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I assume that you have picked someone to start us out here this morning. Mr. Rhea, why don't you being?
STATEMENT OF LARRY D. RHEA, DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS, NON COMMISSIONED OFFICERS ASSOCIATION
Mr. RHEA. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Good morning. Good morning, Mr. Filner, Mr. Mascara.
The Non Commissioned Officers Association is pleased to be among the witnesses invited to present testimony this morning, and we ask that our prepared statement be included as part of the hearing record.
Mr. QUINN. Without objection.
Mr. RHEA. Mr. Chairman, NCOA supports H.R. 166 and H.R. 167. H.R. 166, in addition to restoring and strengthening employment protection for state employees who are members of the Reserve components, is the right thing to do because we should demand no less of government, Federal, State, or local, than we demand of the private sector. It clearly is the right thing to do as the Nation increasingly looks to members of the Reserve forces to shoulder more and more of the defense burden.
In NCOA's view, H.R. 167 proposes to do nothing more than what we should have been doing all along, and that is providing priority of service to veterans under all training and employment programs that are funded in whole or in part with federal tax dollars. The Association supports the bill, and we are particularly pleased with the appeals section for veterans who believe their rights were violated under the Federal Contractor Job Listing Program.
NCOA does request that Section 2 of H.R. 167 be modified to simply service connected disabled veterans and all other veterans. The Association tends to believe that so many distinctions among veterans may, in fact, result in disservice in the new training and employment arena, and we prefer to keep it simple.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The NCOA does not object to increasing the contract level from $10,000 to $100,000 under the Federal Contractor Job Listing Program, but let's recognize though that this creates room for contracting officials to game the system by splitting what otherwise would be one contract into two or more to avoid reporting requirements. If the level is raised to $100,000, NCOA believes the subcommittee will have to be vigilant to insure that this does not happen.
Call us skeptical if you want, but past performance is more than ample reason for concern. If the level is raised, NCOA recommends that it be a 12-month cumulative amount.
We particularly appreciate your efforts on H.R. 1877, Mr. Chairman, to expand work-study opportunities. We support that measure and thank you for your leadership by example on that, and similarly we support the draft measure regarding the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.
Today the subcommittee is also considering two veteran educational proposals, and we are grateful that the subcommittee is looking at the issue of veteran education. The Association intends no offense to anyone, but NCOA is compelled to ask: is this the best we can do?
Frankly, this Association believes that we can do better, and that veterans have earned it. If Congress can accommodate record levels of federal spending on non-veteran education in the balanced budget agreement, then this Association believes that more can be done on the veteran benefit than that contained in the proposals under discussion today.
The Association is grateful that Mr. Filner has put legislation on the table that would authorize a 10 percent increase in the basic benefit of the MGIB and the Select Reserve Educational Assistance Program. That, however, does not alter NCOA's belief that veterans' education programs are being slighted in the grand scheme of the balanced budget agreement.
Even with the 10 percent increase, the basic benefit would still cover less than 40 percent of the cost at a public 4-year college or university.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, the current Montgomery GI Bill was written in 1981. It was enacted 3 years later as a part of the Fiscal Year 1985 Defense Authorization Act. Veterans first became eligible for benefit payments under the MGIB in July 1988.
From the time it was written until the first benefits were paid, the MGIB had already lost 7 years to inflation and rising educational cost. Even after legislation was passed 4 years ago to provide for automatic COLA increase, the increase was frozen the first year, and the following 2 years only half of the COLA was provided.
A 10 percent increase, while appreciated, simply does not make up all of that lost ground. Likewise, changing the VEAP matching contribution ratio from two to $4 is an appreciated gesture, but would have little positive effect. It does not do a thing for those excluded from the current opportunity to convert from VEAP to the Montgomery GI Bill.
It is absolutely clear, and I think some members have pointed it out this morning, that a comprehensive review of veteran education is needed, and the Association asks that this subcommittee seize the initiative.
It is abundantly clear, and painfully so to NCOA, that any initiative on the veteran education benefit will not originate with the administration. It will be up to the distinguished members of this subcommittee and the Veterans' Committee to do so. Otherwise we will continue to apply Bandaid approaches when major surgery is called for.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Rhea appears on p. 103.]
Mr. FILNER. If I could just interrupt for a second, those last remarks I thought were very helpful. They were not in your prepared statement that we got; is that correct:
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. RHEA. No, sir.
Mr. FILNER. Okay.
Mr. RHEA. Relative to when it was enacted?
Mr. FILNER. Yes.
Mr. RHEA. No, sir.
Mr. FILNER. Okay.
Mr. RHEA. It was not.
Mr. FILNER. If you can get us your testimony before we get it through the testimony, I would appreciate it.
Mr. RHEA. I will be happy to do that.
Mr. FILNER. Thank you very much.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Daniels
STATEMENT OF SIDNEY DANIELS, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL VETERANS EMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE SERVICE, VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS
Mr. DANIELS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, on behalf of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, I appreciate the opportunity to appear here today to share our thoughts on the several bills under consideration.
I will start off by offering comments on H.R. 166, the Veterans Job Protection Act.
We support the general thrust of this bill. We especially like the provision which authorizes the right of private action by veterans or a service member in pursuing a legitimate claim.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We express reservations, however, over those provisions that authorize the U.S. Government to intervene at a later date in a private action, to take control of the private action, and to independently seek settlement if it so chooses against the objection of the individual who initiated the action. We believe that the several provisions I just described deserve a little bit more balance.
With respect to H.R. 167, we differ with the proposed language under Section 3 pertaining to the veterans' employment emphasis under federal contracts. We support keeping the threshold for applicable contracts and grants at 10,000 instead of increasing it to 100,000, and that is simply because there is no evidence at the present that there is any kind of a paperwork or other type of burden facing the contractor or the agencies that are monitoring that program.
We support all other major provisions of this bill, however.
With respect to H.R. 759, we support efforts to bring about increases in educational assistance programs administered by the VA, but we would like to see higher numbers. This bill is certainly a step in the right direction.
With respect to H.R. 1877, we support this measure which, as we understand it, would expand the VA Work-Study Program to allow veterans to work at job sites other than their school or the local VA facility. We applaud this effort. Likewise, we support all of the provisions of H.R. 1877 pertaining to USERRA.
With respect to USERRA and Reserve members who serve in U.S. Reserve units on German soil, in particular, Mr. Chairman, we have received some mail on that, and we are satisfied that this bill does correct part of that problem. Some of the Reservists work for foreign national companies, German companies, if you will, and we have suggested in our formal statement that while this bill offers some relief in the case of those Reservists who work for American based companies, we do believe that it is worthwhile to refer that matter to the House National Security Committee so that some mention might be made to the State Department on the Status of Forces Agreement the next time it comes around.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That concludes my statement, Mr. Chairman.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Daniels appears on p. 113.]
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much.
At this time, it is important to remember that this whole initiative on education is one that is probably the reason why the Transition Commission exists. Mr. Drach, of course, is a prominent member of that committee. We are pleased to have you here this morning and to have your testimony, sir.
STATEMENT OF RON W. DRACH, NATIONAL EMPLOYMENT DIRECTOR, DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS
Mr. DRACH. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee.
I think there is a distinct advantage to going last, and that is that we get to clean up some of the stuff that came before us, and that has been kind of the history, and the irony of it is that we do prepare our written statement which we present, and then I end up sitting in the back writing notes and end up giving you a totally different statement than what was preprepared.
One of the comments I would like to make, Mr. Chairman, in reference to what your discussion was just briefly a little while ago about the counting of VA benefits, I think that perhaps, and this may be an oversimplification, but I think it could be looked at; if perhaps a minor amendment to Title 38 with language that would say, in essence, in determining eligibility for any other federal program, benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs would be excluded from determining eligibility for those benefits.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It has been in there before, and it may be something that is worthwhile.
I would also like to go back. You know, as the aging process hits me, I become painfully aware that my short-term memory is almost gone, but my long-term memory still kicks in pretty good, and I do remember at one point in time the dislocated worker numbers. Twenty-six percent of the dislocated worker population were veterans, and at the same time, 14 percent of the workforce were veterans.
Mr. QUINN. Excuse me, Mr. Drach, and that is what we are trying to get. I remembered the number 24 percent. You have a better long-term memory than me.
Mr. DRACH. I am older than you.
Mr. QUINN. We will ask Sonny, and it will probably be about 35 percent.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you.
I think you are absolutely right, and I do not know how we get those numbers.
Mr. DRACH. Well, let me give you an observation, if I may, Mr. Chairman. When numbers do not look good, it is easy to stop collecting them, and I remember back probably in the 1970s when there was a disparity between the number of unemployed Vietnam-era veterans officially reported and the number who were actually seeking jobs, and there was about 1.6 million difference.
We raised that issue at a hearing here, and about a month later when the numbers came out, there was only a difference of about 200,000, and when I inquired about it, they changed the definition of Vietnam veteran. Very simple, and the problem goes away.
And the other thing that we failed to mention or we failed to look at in the Dislocated Worker Program is former service members are dislocated workers. When you get discharged from the military, you are a dislocated worker. You have lost your job, and you are out on the street, and perhaps we should be looking at including some of those individuals as dislocated workers, particularly those who are discharged involuntarily. They have lost their jobs.
Page 48 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC H.R. 167 we really appreciate, and a lot of the provisions of H.R. 167 are issues that we have been pushing for and discussing for many, many years, and we are very appreciative of this and certainly support it.
The issue of raising the threshold on federal contracts, initially we had no opposition and supported the raising of the threshold, but subsequent to our written testimony, new information became available to us that made us change our mind, and we would ask you to take a look at this, Mr. Chairman.
According to the information, currently there are three programs that the Department of Labor administers under affirmative action, one for women and minorities, one for the disabled people, and one for veterans, and all three of them right now are very consistent in that the requirements are the same for written affirmative action plans and contract amounts.
I am told, and I have no reason to discount this, that if this threshold is raised to $100,000, we will lose 43 percent of the covered federal contractors. That is almost half of the population.
So I think we need to take a hard look at that and maybe pursue it a little bit further before a final decision is made on that.
We do also support the idea of including a covered grant, whether it is at the $10,000 threshold or the $100,000 threshold or whatever is ultimately decided upon, because we think that a lot of grantees are getting away with a lot of things.
We would like to also see the VRA changed in terms of its title from ''readjustment'' to ''recruitment'' program. That is something that we have long supported.
We are particularly appreciative of Section 5 of H.R. 167, which includes the new and improved enforcement rights, but we would make only one recommendation that those enforcement rights or that complaint mechanism include complaints under Section 4214 of Title 38, U.S. Code.
Page 49 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC On the Montgomery GI Bill increase, we certainly have no opposition to increasing that, and we are particularly pleased to see the inclusion of the survivors' and dependents' educational assistance in that increase.
And there was some discussion this morning with Mr. Montgomery about the Montgomery GI Bill, and one of the issues that the Transition Commission is looking at is the relatively low usage of the GI Bill. We are very concerned about why there are so few percentage-wise of current eligible veterans using the Montgomery GI Bill, and we are looking at that as a commission with an eye toward making recommendations to Congress on how to improve the usage, but also possibly looking at alternative usage for that money because we know right now if the ex-service member does not use it, they lose it, and perhaps some of that money could be used for tools if somebody wants to start their own business, and all that is keeping them from starting their own business is the cost of new tools to start their auto mechanics shop. Is there some way that maybe that money could be used for those kinds of things?
So we will be looking at that with the commission and reporting back to you on that, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much. That concludes my statement.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Drach appears on p. 119 and 120.]
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much. Mr. Crandell.
STATEMENT OF WILLIAM CRANDELL, NATIONAL OPERATIONS DIRECTOR, AMVETS
Mr. CRANDELL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We appreciate this hearing. AMVETS is glad to be here and particularly is glad to see Mr. Montgomery with us again. It was a real pleasure.
Page 50 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We will be brief in the discussion of the six amendments in Title 38. We are not against H.R. 166, 167, 759, 1877, and the two discussion bills. We will be watching their development closely.
AMVETS has commented many times on the inadequate dollar amounts associated with the Montgomery GI Bill, and while we feel that H.R. 759 makes a good step, we also feel that it is not a significant increase.
We have been a long time supporter of veterans' preference, and we are proud to be one of the 19 VSOs which has formed a task force in order to help get H.R. 240 adopted.
We have a choice to either help the military member transition back into civilian life and the real world or pay the unemployment and homeless services later. We prefer the former.
With the drawn-downs and early retirement plans facing the military, the bills your committee has brought up and the veterans' preference bill are paramount.
Young men and women who join the military today cannot assume it will be a long-term career. We have spoken with veterans who are facing retirement and separation, and they are afraid. They have served their country proudly, and now we must be there for them.
The transition from military to civilian life is not an easy task. Historically, veterans' unemployment rates exceed their non-veteran counterparts for 10 years after discharge.
Military training has limited transferability to the civilian applications. One problem is recognition of skills that require licensing or other certifications by the civilian sector.
Transitioning military personnel suffer a significant drop in earnings compared with that of their civilian counterparts. Historically veterans have not reached occupational parity with their non-veteran counterparts until about the age of 45. Younger, disabled, combat, and minority veterans' unemployment rates generally exceed the rates of other recently discharged veterans.
Page 51 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If a single mother gets out of the military, she needs not only to find a job, but must also afford child care. The cost of the Transition Assistance Program, TAP, is estimated at $40 per participant. An adequate mandatory TAP Program is a huge savings to taxpayers when you consider that unemployment runs about $200 per person per week.
TAP should be mandatory and should provide the same services at each military installation. TAP's job is to help newly discharged service personnel compete in what active duty troops justifiably call the real world.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes our testimony.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Crandell appears on p. 125.]
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Crandell.
STATEMENT OF KIMO S. HOLLINGSWORTH, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE COMMISSION, THE AMERICAN LEGION
Mr. HOLLINGSWORTH. Mr. Chairman, Mr. Filner, the American Legion appreciates this opportunity to express its views regarding the very issues before the subcommittee today.
Ultimately the common goal of these proposals is to help veterans transition from military service to the civilian workforce. Outside of combat, a successful transition from the military is probably one of the most difficult challenges veterans will ever face during their lifetime.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Hopefully this hearing can assist Congress in their efforts to forge sound and reasonable solutions.
The American Legion serious questions why Congress and President Clinton essentially agreed to a $50 billion increase in higher education spending and did not include additional funding for the Montgomery GI Bill. This is of particular concern because the President made a promise last year to negotiate with Secretary Brown on the VA budget, and it is very apparent that little or no negotiating took place with regard to the overall VA budget.
The American Legion believes that Congress and the administration are unwittingly discouraging military service by their recent actions. Young adults seriously question the value of military service, especially since so many other opportunities can provide similar benefits with relatively little or no personal sacrifice or endangerment.
In my written statement, the American Legion offers new concepts which would build and expand the current Montgomery GI Bill. In addition, and I will plant a seed here, Congress should seriously consider enacting legislation which would allow veterans to use their military service as national service for the receipt of educational benefits under Americorps, regardless of whether a veteran received benefits from the Montgomery GI Bill or not.
Some years ago Congress authorized educational benefits to be paid to qualified veterans who enrolled in correspondence courses approved by VA. Because of abuses, payment was limited to 55 percent of the cost of the course, and occurred only after completion.
Distance education is much less prone to abuse than that of two decades ago, and the time has come to restore the reimbursement rate for correspondence training to 90 percent.
Regarding H.R. 759, a bill to provide a small increase to the current Montgomery GI Bill, this proposal is like putting a Bandaid on a sucking chest wound. No offense, Mr. Filner. We greatly appreciate your efforts, but in essence, that is what it is amounting to.
Page 53 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The American Legion supports this increase in benefits, but a proposal like that offered by the Legion is seriously needed to improve and save the Montgomery GI Bill.
The American Legion does not support Section 3 of the draft legislation, which would provide additional monies to college seniors who maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.25. This program would benefit some veterans who have the luxury to study more than others.
A veteran who must work to support a family or work to make ends meet may not have the time and energy to properly achieve this type of grade point average.
In addition, a select few are eligible for college fund programs and qualify for substantially more benefits than the average veteran.
The American Legion supports the other provisions of this legislation, as well as the proposed changes regarding work-study students under Title 38.
Regarding other employment issues, a new definition of priority service is needed to fit the environment of one-stop shops.
In addition, legislation should be drafted to change any and all references to veterans of the Vietnam era to veterans of the Conflict Era regarding veterans' employment. U.S. troops have been engaged in combat operations in Panama, Lebanon, Grenada, and the Persian Gulf, Somalia, and Bosnia. Unless the statutes are changed, veterans of these combat operations will not receive priority service.
Veterans in the modern military have endured the same dangers as those experienced during the Vietnam era.
Mr. Chairman, the American Legion fully supported the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and fully supports H.R. 166.
In addition, the Legion fully supports draft legislation to expand USERRA to members of the National Guard and Reserves working for private U.S. companies overseas. When private American corporations are threatened or harassed in foreign countries, U.S. service personnel may ultimately be asked to defend their interests. It is only fair to extend employment protections under USERRA to companies that benefit from the forward presence of the U.S. military.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Lastly, the American Legion supports H.R. 167, but we do have concern with Section 5. The bill and Section 5 could possibly undermine efforts to pass H.R. 240, the Veterans' Preference Opportunities Act of 1997. Strengthening veterans' employment rights continues to be a major goal of the VSOs, and H.R. 240 is a priority for the American Legion.
This concludes my statement.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Hollingsworth appears on p. 129.]
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you all.
I have a number of questions here. I know Mr. Filner has a number, too.
Mr. Drach, if I could, I am in the same situation you are. I had prepared questions, but then after you hear the testimony, some others pop up.
I was getting at this eligibility question earlier in some other testimony. What did you suggest?
Mr. DRACH. Well, this is just language that I pulled off the top of my head.
Mr. QUINN. I understand.
Mr. DRACH. In determining eligibility for other federal programs, VA benefits are to be excluded.
Mr. QUINN. Excluded, okay.
Mr. DRACH. And I think maybe some conference language or committee language would indicate all federal benefits.
At one point in time Vietnam veterans were denied eligibility under CETA because of their income based on compensation or GI Bill benefits. Well, that was illegal back at that time. You were not allowed to do that because benefits could not be counted in determining eligibility. You know, they should not be counted.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Again, off the top of your head and in that spirit here, and that is what the discussion is only, the down side to that: who do we hear from as soon as we suggest something like that? What is the problem with that?
Mr. DRACH. That is a good question, Mr. Chairman. I really do not know. I am sure there are people. There is always somebody out there that you are going to offend on this, but I think the argument can be made that, you know, these benefits have been earned under a different era. They have been earned as a result of military service whether it is the Montgomery GI Bill or compensation for a disability that was incurred on active duty.
It is a separate entitlement. It is a separate benefit that they earned under a separate, you know, area.
Mr. QUINN. And I think that is what I was trying to get at. You have clarified that. So maybe a start for us would be to ask the staff to begin with the Labor Department. Mr. Borrego was here, and I know some staff who was with him is still at this hearing this morning. It is unfair to ask that question without having it thought through. But maybe a start on that would be for us to write to ask that question, to make the suggestion, and see just who we do offend.
Mr. DRACH. Well, yes. I mean one of the ideas, if you say that a disabled veteran of the Persian Gulf was getting 60 percent disability because he lost a leg in the Persian Gulf, and then he goes in and applies for a job and it is said, ''Well, your income is too high, you know, to be eligible for this program,'' come on. Give me a break. You know, the person lost a leg. You know, let's make this a level playing field here.
Mr. QUINN. Exactly what I had in mind when we started that line of questioning. I think that merits some more discussion.
Thank you for your comments.
Mr. DRACH. Thank you.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Even off the top of your head because I think that is where I was coming from as well.
Mr. DRACH. Thank you.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Filner.
Mr. FILNER. I have nothing specific, but I do want to thank all of you for some very good suggestions. I think you will see the fruits of your testimony in the next drafts, and we appreciate you working with us on all of this.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Bob.
I think that concludes all of the questions since there are no other members here.
We want to thank you all and all of the panelists for appearing this morning and look forward to our ongoing discussion.
The hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 11:15 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned, subject to the call of the chair.]