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Public Statements

Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BILIRAKIS. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 4057) to amend title 38, United States Code, to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop a comprehensive policy to improve outreach and transparency to veterans and members of the Armed Forces through the provision of information on institutions of higher learning, and for other purposes, as amended.

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Mr. BILIRAKIS. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

H.R. 4057, as amended, is another bipartisan product of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs' work to improve the effectiveness of several different benefits and health programs for veterans.

I want to express my appreciation to my good friend Chairman Miller and to my other good friend Ranking Member Bob Filner, along with each of the subcommittee chairs--Marlin Stutzman and Ann Marie Buerkle--as well as Ranking Members Bruce Braley and Mike Michaud, for bringing, of course, these provisions to the full committee and to the floor today.

The bill has five major sections, Mr. Speaker. Section 1 reflects a slightly modified version of the original text of my bill, H.R. 4057, which I introduced in February. This legislation would improve the ability of GI Bill users to choose the school that best meets their educational needs. As we commemorate September 11 today, it is appropriate that this Congress help this generation of post-9/11 veterans make informed choices by using their educational benefits.

Specifically, this legislation will require the VA to create a comprehensive policy that would meet this goal by informing veterans about their eligibility for educational counseling by creating a centralized complaint database on schools, requiring State approving agencies to better communicate with accrediting agencies, requiring VA to link to certain performance-related data points on the College Navigator and other appropriate Web sites, and identifying commercially off-the-shelf available software that would assist students in choosing a school and software that would evaluate their readiness to attend postsecondary education.

I want to thank the veteran service organizations and higher education associations for the support of this section and providing great feedback on ways to improve this bill.

Section 2 contains provisions originally introduced by Congressman Stivers and my friend from across the aisle, Congressman Tim Walz, to require States to take military training into account in awarding licenses to work as medical technicians and other trades. I thank Mr. Stivers, another good friend of mine, and Mr. Walz, for their work on these provisions that will speed up servicemembers' transition to civilian life.

Section 3 contains a provision introduced by Congressman David McKinley which would require per diem payment recipients under VA's Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program to certify compliance with the Life Safety Code or the International Fire Code and other relevant fire safety and building codes. It would also require VA to include an accounting and evaluation of the safety and accessibility of facilities used to provide programs for homeless veterans in the annual report on assistance to homeless veterans.

I'm grateful for Mr. McKinley's advocacy on behalf of our homeless veterans, and I thank him for his hard work to ensure that they are cared for in a safe and secure environment.

Section 4, which incorporates language originally introduced by Representative Akin, would direct the VA to establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for veterans--very important--veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes caused by open burn pits during deployment. It would require VA to develop a public information campaign to inform eligible veterans of the registry and periodically notify them of significant developments in the study and treatment of conditions associated with burn pit exposure. It would also direct the VA to contract with an independent scientific organization to develop a report on the effectiveness of actions taken to collect and maintain information on the health effects of burn pit exposure and submit the completed report to Congress.

Many of our servicemembers and veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with grave concerns about the possible long-term health effects of burn pit exposure. With this provision, I hope we will move one step closer to providing them answers which may lead to getting them more effective health care.

Finally, section 5, which incorporates language offered by Mr. Stearns, a good friend of mine from the State of Florida, would limit the total amount of bonuses paid to senior VA employees to $1 million for fiscal years 2013 to 2017. On average, over the last several years, VA paid nearly $4 million a year to senior executives who are already paid very well. In a tight fiscal climate when so many improvements are needed for veterans, we must prioritize every dollar. Extravagant executive bonuses are to be the least of our priorities. I'm pleased this section would recognize that reality.

Mr. Speaker, I would also note that the cost of these sections are fully paid for.

I encourage all Members to support this bill, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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