Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:  Ann Marie Buerkle
Date: Sept. 11, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. BUERKLE. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 4057, as amended, the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012.

As we all know, 11 years ago this morning on September 11, 2001, our country was forever changed when terrorist attacks on American soil resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 innocent souls. Since that time we've been tested like never before, and thanks to the brave service and sacrifices of our Nation's Armed Forces, have emerged as a nation stronger, better, and more resolved to advancing the cause of freedom around the world.

We also have emerged a more grateful Nation, ever mindful of the simple truth that the security and freedoms we enjoy were bought and paid for by the blood, sweat, and tears of those in uniform. Caring for and honoring these heroes is one of our Nation's most sacred obligations and the primary purpose of this bill before us today.

H.R. 4057, as amended, includes two provisions originating from the Subcommittee on Health, of which I am honored to chair.

Section 3 of the bill would require per diem payment recipients under the Department of VA Homeless Grant and Per Diem program to provide VA with a certification of compliance with a Life Safety Code or the International Fire Code and other relevant fire safety building codes in their jurisdiction. This provision would also require the VA to include an accounting and evaluation of the safety and accessibility of facilities used to provide programs for homeless vets in the annual report on assistance to homeless veterans.

Current law requires the VA to ensure that entities receiving grants under the homeless grant and per diem program meet fire and safety codes. However, VA lacks a similar requirement to ensure per diem recipients are also compliant with these very important codes.

When one of our honored veterans finds him or herself homeless and makes the difficult decision to get help, we must ensure that they are provided the services they need in a safe, secure, and supportive environment. This section of the bill would allow us to do so in a much more comprehensive, effective, and efficient manner.

This provision was introduced by my good friend and colleague from West Virginia, David McKinley, and I thank him for his leadership and his advocacy on behalf of the homeless veterans struggling to rebuild their lives.

Section 4 of the bill would direct the VA to establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes caused by open burn pits during deployment. This provision would also require the VA to develop a public information campaign to inform eligible veterans of their registry and periodically notify them of significant developments in

the study and treatment of the conditions that may be associated with burn pit exposure.

Further, it would 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.

I have heard from countless veterans who returned home from a war consumed with concern about the air they breathed in the battle, which was often filled with smoke from the burning of solid waste and could affect their health and well-being. With this provision, we will take first steps towards recognizing and respecting these concerns of our veterans. Importantly, it will also allow us to gather data necessary to discovering new and better ways to care to for our veterans today and in future generations.

In closing, I would like to offer my sincere gratitude and appreciation to all of the Members who sponsored the provisions included in this legislation.

I also would like to thank the ranking member on the Health Subcommittee, Mr. Michaud of Maine, for his support and all of the work on behalf of our veterans.

I urge all of my colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation. On this day of all days, it is so very important that we support the servicemembers and veterans who have fought for the greatest Nation in the history of mankind, the United States of America.

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