By Rick Maze
The House Veterans' Affairs Committee moved Friday to strip the Labor Department of veterans' employment and rehabilitation programs.
This would include job training, counseling and placement programs, and homeless veteran reintegration programs, which would be transferred in 2014 to the Veterans Affairs Department.
"It is time to try a different approach," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the veterans' committee chairman and chief sponsor of HR 4072, the Consolidating Veteran Employment Services for Improved Performance Act of 2012.
Miller said major veterans' groups are on his side. Ryan Gallucci of Veterans of Foreign Wars, testifying about the bill in March, said his organization has some concerns about details but "placing all veterans issues under a single authority will improve oversight and efficiency."
"VFW believes that shifting responsibility for veterans' employment programs to VA will ultimately ensure better service for our nation's veterans. However, we must ensure that any legislation that passes ensures that veterans' workforce programs remain fully funded and that any transition of authority happens with minimal interruptions," Gallucci said.
Miller said funding levels would not change and nobody would lose their jobs. Labor Department employees working on veterans' issues would be transferred to VA. The Veterans Education and Training Service at the Labor Department has 218 full-time employees and an annual budget of about $258.8 million.
Not everyone is on board, however. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., said she thinks the committee is moving too quickly on a change without knowing the outcome. "We do not have the understanding of the full impact of such a move," Brown said. "We don't have facts, and I like facts."
Brown said she is unsure VA could do a better job and questioned the logic. "VA has no core competency in creating jobs for veterans," she said, and if the idea is to combine organizations because of loose ties, the entire Defense Department could be shifted to the VA because it is the military that creates veterans.
Brown pushed for a study before the transfer, but Miller said more study is not needed. "We have had study after study over the years that say the program does not work," Miller said. "Veterans expect bold action."
There is a study in the bill, but that would be a review one year after the transfer to see how well things have gone. Brown said this was closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.
By a 14-10 vote, the committee backed Miller and approved the transfer of the Labor Department's Veterans Education and Training Service, known as VETS, to the VA.