Today, Nebraska's Senator Ben Nelson joined a rural veterans' roundtable with Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki in Omaha, toured the Omaha VA hospital slated for major overhaul and announced he has cosponsored two bills to improve training, education and job counseling for veterans, particularly veterans from rural areas such as Nebraska.
Nelson discussed his legislation during the roundtable led by Shinseki that drew Nebraska area veterans, regional Veterans Administration and Agriculture Department officials, and others. The meeting fostered a discussion about veterans' health care, the need for specialty care, training, tele-medicine, education and job opportunities for rural veterans.
"Nebraskans believe, as I do, that we need to be as good at taking care of our veterans as we are at creating them," said Senator Nelson. "This is especially true considering the many veterans who have served, or will have served, in Iraq or Afghanistan. These men and women, including those who come from rural areas of our states, are the backbone of our national security. They have sacrificed much to preserve our freedoms."
"We owe them more than a debt of gratitude. We shouldn't just shake their hand for a job well done on the battlefield and send them out the door alone to look for a job back home."
"That's why I have cosponsored legislation to help ensure our veterans receive the training, job counseling and education they need to transition out of the military and into productive lives as civilians," said Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has worked extensively on veterans' issues.
Nelson has signed on as a cosponsor to the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, which is the first of its kind to provide broad job skills training for all service members returning home. Today, more than one in four veterans ages 20-24 are unemployed. To help combat that high unemployment, the bill requires each service member leaving the military to attend a transition assistance program. It creates new direct federal hiring authority, so that more service members have jobs waiting for them the day they leave the military. It will improve veteran mentorship programs and it requires the Department of Defense, the Labor Department and the VA to work together on job accreditation for veterans to identify the equivalencies between certain military skills and civilian employment.
Nelson also cosponsored the Veterans Unemployment Assistance Act, which seeks to increase access to employment opportunities for rural veterans. It will hire more veterans' job counselors in rural states to help veterans find work. It would increase the number of full-time job counselors from 11 to 14 in Nebraska.
"I am dedicated to serving our veterans," the senator said. "I will continue to combat high unemployment among veterans through job skills training, certification, improved federal hiring practices, and encouraging private business and companies to hire our veterans.
"They have helped safeguard our freedoms. We must help safeguard their future."
Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee since 2001, has worked on numerous veterans issues.
Earlier this week, he listened to Nebraskans discuss education programs that reach out to veterans during a visit to Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff. The college is using workforce development grants to help veterans and others receive accelerated training to get students quickly into a job.
On Thursday, August 18th, Nelson toured a Veterans Resource Center at Central Community College in Columbus to hear how it helps students who are military veterans receive resources, mentoring, career advice and advocacy to succeed in the classroom and in civilian life.
Previously, Nelson served as chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel where he held hearings to address concerns of active duty service members and veterans. He succeeded in improving federal law under the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act to address military suicides, travel reimbursements for soldiers, mental heath services, health benefits, strains on military families, compensation for caregivers treating injured service members and care for wounded warriors.
The senator also has worked for several years to ensure that serious shortcomings at the Omaha VA facility are addressed. In 2008, he hosted former VA Secretary James McPeake on a tour of the Omaha VA Medical Center to see conditions firsthand, and helped secure support for an independent study, which called for a major overhaul of the facility. Nelson has held several meetings and numerous discussions with the current VA Secretary Shinseki as the VA's modernization project for the VA hospital has gotten underway.
In 2010, the Administration committed to transforming the aging VA hospital built more than 57 years ago, into a 21st Century health care facility that serves thousands of veterans in a four-state area. Planning and design are underway now and construction is slated to begin in 2013.
Secretary Shinseki and Sen. Nelson toured the hospital today during the secretary's visit to Omaha.