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Public Statements

Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss an amendment I recently filed with Senator Leahy to the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012. We filed this amendment to ensure that veterans service organizations are provided access to Federal surplus property as we intended when we introduced the FORVETS Act of 2010. This law provides that veterans service organizations should be categorized as eligible nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations that may acquire surplus personal property for the purposes of education or public health.

Unfortunately, the General Services Administration has interpreted this law in the strictest of terms. In its published guidelines, veterans service organizations may acquire the surplus property for the purposes of education or public health but with minimal flexibility in what an educational or public health service may be. For example, acquiring a van to transport a disabled veteran to a doctor's appointment may not be considered an eligible use for a veterans organization under current guidelines.

This amendment makes the legislative modification necessary for GSA to carry out the original intent of the FORVETS Act of 2010.

The National Association of State Agencies for Surplus Property, NASASP, has identified the need for this legislative modification to ensure that veterans service organizations are able to receive surplus equipment to enable them to better provide the critical services they offer for our Nation's veterans.

Veterans groups whose work enhances the lives of countless veterans every day benefit from access to these goods just as other service organizations do. Many veterans organizations offer career development and job training assistance to our Nation's veterans, yet often lack the computer equipment needed to best assist our veterans in the often difficult transition from military service to the civilian work force.

These are just a few examples of the needs that veterans service organizations have. This amendment is one way to say ``thank you'' to those Americans who have worn the uniform and to the families that supported them. In these challenging fiscal times, the need for excess federal property to be used for job training, rehabilitation, and other important assistance to our veterans is greater now more than ever.

I urge my colleagues to support the inclusion of this amendment to the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012.

Mr. President, since 2004, active duty military suicides have more than doubled, and the problem only continues to get worse. The Army recently reported that in July of this year 38 of its soldiers took their lives, a rate of more than one per day. This is a tragedy of the highest magnitude and it is something that the Congress and the American people must not ignore. Action is needed now, and we must take every practical step that we can to help the military reverse this disturbing trend. Not only are we losing dozens of America's finest each month, squandering precious talent that our Nation needs, but today's soldiers are tomorrow's veterans, and the crisis of mental and behavioral health that the epidemic of suicides represents foreshadows a troubling prospect for the future.

In Afghanistan, we have invested billions of dollars and devoted some of the military's best minds to protect our soldiers and give them the tools they need to reduce the threat of an improvised explosive devise attack. Unfortunately, we have only devoted a fraction of the same resources or creativity to suicide prevention, even though through early June 2012 military suicides had outpaced the number of combat deaths in Afghanistan. It is estimated that more than 250 soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines have taken their own lives this year.

There is substantial evidence that prescription drug abuse is a major factor in military suicides. In its January 2012 report Army 2020: Generating Health and Discipline in the Force, the Army found that 29 percent of suicides had a known history of psychotropic medication use including anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medicine, anti-psychotics, and other controlled substances such as opioids.

Active-duty drug use was a factor in more than a third of suicides where drug use could be determined and a factor in two-thirds of suicide attempts. The Army's report recommends the establishment of a military drug take-back program to help combat prescription drug abuse in the ranks. Given that more than 49,000 soldiers were issued three or more psychotropic or controlled substance prescriptions last year and an estimated 3,500 soldiers illicitly used prescription drugs, it's time we act on this recommendation.

At present, only the Drug Enforcement Administration has the inherent authority to conduct a drug take-back program. The Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010, however, provided the Attorney General the flexibility necessary to delegate similar authority to other agencies to conduct a drug take-back program. Thus far, however, the Attorney General has declined to act, and neither the Attorney General nor the DEA has provided mechanisms or authority to the military to establish its own drug take-back program.

Senator Lieberman and I, building on work done by Senator Murray, wrote the Attorney General in July of this year to request his support for efforts to reduce military suicides by allowing military treatment facilities to conduct controlled substance take-back and destruction programs.

Senator Lieberman and I understand that accountability of drugs must be strictly maintained and that these drugs must be prevented from being misused, abused, or from entering the black market. We are confident, however, that an accountable drug take-back program could be established at military treatment facilities with sufficient safeguards put in place to prevent diversion, misuse, theft, or loss of returned drugs. Military treatment facilities are unique, and the military has established successful accountability programs for handling nuclear weapons, conventional weapons, and classified materials. We have no reason to doubt that an appropriate degree of accountability could be established in a drug take-back program.

Excluding the military from conducting drug take-back programs has a detrimental effect on the military's ability to reduce controlled substance abuse in the Force, decrease non-medical use of prescription drugs, prevent diversion of controlled substances, and limit the possibility for accidental overdose and death for our servicemembers or their family members. Providing this authority will give the military one more tool in its efforts to reduce suicides.

The loss of even one servicemember to a potentially preventable suicide involving controlled substance abuse or misuse is unacceptable. For that reason, Senator Lieberman and I filed this amendment to the Veterans Jobs Corps Act. I urge my colleagues to support inclusion of this amendment in this legislation.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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