Saturday, September 17, 2011

Legion backs Nevada senator’s push to pass VA funding law

        WASHINGTON (Sept. 16, 2011) -- The American Legion is lauding freshman Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada for his campaign to encourage colleagues to put aside their differences and pass quickly a bill to provide funding for military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
        The Senate and House of Representatives passed separate versions of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2055) in mid-summer, but minor differences remain that must be reconciled before the legislation can be combined and signed into law by President Obama.
        On Sept. 15, Heller, a new Senator but veteran Congressman, sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, urging them to pass the legislation as soon as possible so as to not endanger, among other things, the timely payment of benefits to veterans. 
        “The benefits owed to the men and women who have served in the Armed Services should not be jeopardized because Congress has not had the self-discipline necessary to pass a responsible budget,” Heller said.  “Both parties from the House and Senate need to work out their differences and pass this legislation so our veterans can be certain they will receive every benefit promised to them.  Moving this process forward is the least we can do for the men and women who have selflessly served our nation and risked their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today,” he said.
        “This is a point I’ll be making in my testimony before the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Sept. 21st,” said Fang A. Wong, newly elected national commander of The American Legion. “It would be easy for Congress to include VA funding in a continuing resolution, but that won’t get the job done. They need to iron out a few minor differences in conference committee – this should be completed outside of a continuing resolution.”
        To date, a conference committee to settle the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Mil Con-VA Appropriations Act has not been formed.  “Our nation’s veterans didn’t take the easy way out while serving their nation,” Wong said.  “The best thing Congress can do is fund the VA for the entire fiscal year and stop playing political games with this issue.”
Contact:  Marty Callaghan, 202-263-5758/202-215-8644 or Craig Roberts, 202-263-2982/ 202-406-0887.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Veterans seen as vital to jobs bill

National Commander supports Obama's plan to deploy veterans in the battle to revive America's economy.
WASHINGTON (Sept. 8, 2011) - Pressing Congress to pass the American Jobs Act, which aims to reduce unemployment and stimulate U.S. productivity, President Barack Obama told a joint session of Congress Thursday evening to look to the nation's veterans, who have fought with their lives to defend our country. "The last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home," he said.
The president's words in a Thursday evening address to the nation echoed what he said Aug. 30 at the 93rd National Convention of The American Legion in Minneapolis when he announced a plan to offer tax credits to companies that hire veterans. There, he told about 10,000 Legionnaires and their families that he was calling on every state "to pass legislation that makes it easier for our veterans to get the credentials and the jobs for which they are so clearly qualified. This needs to happen, and it needs to happen now."
American Legion National Commander Fang A. Wong said the president's plan to get more Americans back to work falls in line with the Legion's ongoing efforts to reduce veteran unemployment, especially among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Far too many of our young veterans are returning home to find they can't get back into the workforce - is that a proper way for our country to reward these men and women who have served us so well overseas?" Wong said.
According to a Joint Economic Commission report to Congress last June, the unemployment rate for male veterans aged 18 to 24 stood at 27 percent.
"We sponsor more than 100 job fairs per year for servicemembers and veterans," Wong said. "We press federal agencies to hire more veterans. We show veteran-owned small businesses how to get more federal contracting dollars. So The American Legion heartily welcomes the jobs plan initiatives pertaining to veterans announced by President Obama, especially since they reinforce the White House's commitment to get more veterans employed."
In the address, Obama said the American Jobs Act will "provide a jolt" to an economy that is now stalled. He pinpointed education, transportation and small business as areas that can make an impact in the recovery. He told lawmakers that the measure will make it easier for small businesses to procure federal contracts. The American Legion is now working with the government to improve compliance with a federal law mandating that no less than 3 percent of federal contracts be awarded to businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.
Obama also spoke of the power the GI Bill {editorial note: Written by the American Legion} poses to stimulate the economy, as it did after World War II. "Millions of returning heroes, including my grandfather, had the opportunity to go to school because of the GI Bill. Where would we be if they hadn't had that chance?"
Earlier in the day, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee passed the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act (known as the VOW Act), sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida. The bill would improve transition counseling for service members leaving active duty, and also help veterans to obtain licenses or certificates for skills they learned in the military.
"Military training and experience needs to be recognized by civilian employers. This is an issue The American Legion has taken to the White House and Congress many times," Wong said. "Now we are seeing some results - in the president's new initiatives to get more veterans hired, and in the VOWS Act that is making its way to a vote on the House floor.
"We have got to convince the private sector to recognize the full value of military service. Taxpayers invest a lot of money in their training. Such a huge investment must not be wasted," Wong said.
The American Legion has been pushing Congress and the private sector for wider recognition of military skills and experience. The Legion's Economic Division is planning to host a conference early next year on licensing and certification issues for veterans.
Telling Congress that "we are tougher than the times we live in," Obama echoed his Aug. 5 speech at the Washington Navy Yard. Before a largely military audience, he outlined four proposals to reduce the jobless rate among Post-9/11 veterans, including tax credits for firms that hire veterans who are unemployed or have service-connected disabilities.
"The president has challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 jobless veterans by the end of 2013," Wong said. "We join the president's call to action, but would like to up the ante. The American Legion is challenging America to bring veterans unemployment below the 5-percent mark before Election Day of 2012. Hiring veterans is one of the best ways to honor their service."
Contact: Marty Callaghan at 202-263-5758/202-215-8644 or .

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pelosi: Veterans benefits not on the table

       MINNEAPOLIS (Aug. 31, 2011) -- When the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction sits down in the coming weeks to look at ways to cut more than $1 trillion from the federal budget, veterans benefits won’t be one of the casualties.
        Addressing The American Legion’s 93rdNational Convention in Minneapolis today, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi told convention delegates that the interests of veterans will be protected during the budget crisis.
        “In the weeks ahead … Congress will take up the budget at a table of 12,” Pelosi said. “I want The American Legion, and all of America to know – that the values of America’s veterans will have a strong presence at that congressional table. I want to assure you that as we reduce the deficit, America’s veterans will not be short-changed. Meeting the needs of our veterans … is a value of the American people that we will protect in those negotiations.
“Supporting our veterans is a bipartisan cause. That’s the beautiful part of it. It’s a place we can all come together. America’s veterans have earned our respect by their actions, their bravery and their valor, their willingness to step forward and serve on our behalf.”
Pelosi also touched on the unemployment crisis facing U.S. veterans – including an unemployment rate of more than 12 percent for post-9/11 veterans. “Our work will not be complete until every American who has fought for our country abroad can find a job when they come home,” she said. “We must build an economy that welcomes our service members home with an opportunity for a paycheck and a fair shot to succeed. “
        Pelosi said one way to create more jobs is to stop exporting them to other countries. “It is a national security issue that we stop the erosion of our manufacturing base in our country,” she said. “We must be self-reliant. We cannot defend our country when we are depending on other countries supplying us with the means to produce what we need to defend.”
Contact: Craig Roberts or Joe March,(612)335-6900;(202) 406-0887.