On Wednesday, the House Veterans' Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee, led by Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), conducted a hearing to review expiring programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The hearing focused on two programs that have expired. The Incarcerated Veterans Training Program (IVTP) is managed by the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) at the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), and is designed to help ex-offender veterans reenter the workforce by linking incarcerated veterans with appropriate employment support as they transition from a correctional facility into the community. Representatives from the veterans' community testified that this program is a successful and necessary tool for veterans and requested that this program be reinstated.
A pilot project to more effectively resolve Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) claims expired at the end of 2007. The program was launched in early 2005 and allowed the Office of Special Counsel to have authority to investigate a portion of federal sector USERRA claims that would normally be investigated by the VETS program at DoL. After the expiration of the pilot program, all claims are now sent to DoL for review. Panelists at the hearing described a successful pilot program and witness Mathew Tully suggested the pilot program be made permanent.
"These are good programs that help veterans from the time they return from service to when they transition into the community," said Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin. "I'll keep working to find ways to expand and strengthen them in order to enhance their benefits to our nation's veterans."
The hearing also focused on three programs that have reverted back to previous rates: the Apprenticeship and On-the-Job Training (OJT), Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance, and the Post-Vietnam Era Veterans' Educational Assistance Program.
The Apprenticeship and OJT program allows eligible veterans, spouses, widows, and children to receive a training allowance from the VA to supplement their wages while learning a new skill or trade, thereby increasing their financial security and job stability during the training period. OJT lasts from six to 24 months training and training for an apprenticeship continues for two years or longer. The Apprenticeship and OJT program had been previously paid at 75% of the full time training rate, legislation raised it up to 85% the last four years but this expired on December 31, 2007, and it reverted back to 75%.
The Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance provides education and training opportunities to eligible dependents of certain veterans. The program offers up to 45 months of education benefits. These benefits may be used for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeship, and on-the-job training. This program reverted back to its previous rates on December 31, 2007.
The Post-Vietnam Era Veterans' Educational Assistance Program also reverted back to its previous rates on December 31, 2007. Veterans that elected to make contributions from their military pay to participate in this education benefit program are eligible. The contributions were matched on a $2 for $1 basis by the federal government. These benefits may be used for degree, certificate, correspondence, apprenticeship/on-the-job training programs, and vocational flight training programs. In certain circumstances, remedial, deficiency, and refresher training may also be available.
"These are the kinds of programs we need to support," said Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "It is our job to meet the needs of a very diverse population of veterans and provide the support services and necessary tools for reentry into the civilian workplace. We are going to have to find ways to fund these successful and worthwhile programs."
The Subcommittee also reviewed two programs in the Home Loan Guaranty section that are set to expire at the end of the year: the Demonstration Project on Adjustable Rate Mortgages- Section 3707 and the Demonstration Project on Hybrid Adjustable Rate Mortgages- Section 3707A. Representatives from the VA asked that these programs be extended.