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Public Statements

Hearing of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

Hearing

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Good morning, Madam Chairman. Welcome to you and our colleagues. I also want to welcome the nominees -- Mr. Kelly and Mr. Greenberg. Thank you both for being here and for your service to our nation.

Today, the Committee will discuss your qualifications to fill two positions that can significantly impact the lives of our nation's veterans, their families, and their survivors. To start with, the Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training will lead an organization that administers employment and training programs for veterans, provides transition assistance to separating servicememebers, and helps enforce laws that protect the employment rights of military personnel. Mr. Kelly, I appreciate your willingness to take on the challenge of serving in this role.

As you know, some of our nation's veterans are facing an employment crisis. Even though there have been improvements, the unemployment rate for Gulf War II era veterans still stands at 10% and the unemployment among our youngest veterans is even worse. That's the case even though many of these servicemembers leave the military with skills and training that should be easily transferable to civilian employment. But, each state has different requirements that veterans may have to meet in order to obtain the licenses or credentials they may need for a civilian career.

Because that can hinder their efforts to get a good job, I introduced a bill -- S. 3353 -- which would require states to offer tests to veterans who have 10 years or more in an occupational field while in the military. If they pass, they would immediately be granted the needed license or credential, without additional training or going through an apprenticeship. Mr. Kelly, I look forward to working with you on this and other ways to break down the barriers veterans face when trying to translate their skills to a civilian job.

This agency also oversees the Transition Assistance Program -- or TAP -- which is supposed to help provide military personnel with the information they need to navigate the civilian job market. For the first time in 20 years, TAP has been redesigned to try to make it relevant to 21st century military personnel. A key function of the Assistant Secretary will be to ensure that these changes are actually effective in meeting the needs of transitioning servicemembers.

On top of that, I am sure you know that this agency experienced significant turmoil during the last 18 months, after serious procurement irregularities were revealed by the Inspector General. I hope you will agree that helping to rebuild VETS' workforce and public image and to ensure that those problems are not repeated should be among your top priorities.

Turning to you, Mr. Greenberg, the judges of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims provide justice to sick or injured veterans and their families, who may have already faced years of delays and frustrations while seeking benefits from VA. The judges also issue precedential decisions that can have a nationwide impact on VA's claims processing system and on the individuals trying to navigate that system.

Given those important responsibilities, candidates to serve on this Court must be impartial, well-qualified, and have a sound judicial philosophy and temperament. They must be prepared to make decisions fairly, promptly, and efficiently. For this Court in particular, which has more than 4,000 pending cases, a new judge must also be ready to hit-the-ground running and immediately help the Court address its challenging caseload.

I also want to point out that, in my view, organizations tend to function at their best when those integral to the operations -- like judges -- are personally engaged on a daily basis. But, if judges have to travel long distances to get to the Court, it could make that more difficult. That's why I introduced a bill -- S. 2045 -- that would require judges of the Veterans Court to live within 50 miles of the DC area, where the Court is located. A similar residency requirement already applies to other federal judges.

This bill is simply intended to stress that judges should live near enough to the Court to allow face-to-face discussions with other judges and allow the judges to be personally involved in the day-to-day operations of their chambers and the Court. In my view, these expectations are completely in line with the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which requires that the "duties of judicial office take precedence over all other activities." Madam Chairman, I think this bill is simply common sense and I hope it will soon become law.

I thank the Chair and, again, thank the nominees for being here. I look forward to your testimony.


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