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Mr. STEARNS. I thank my distinguished chairman and colleague.
I rise today in support of H.R. 4057, the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012. It has been offered by my colleague from Florida, Gus Bilirakis.
My colleagues, this bill would provide veterans and servicemembers the resources that they need to make informed decisions when choosing the right institution or school for the career they wish to pursue. The other provisions included would help veterans with State certification credentials for skills acquired while on active duty. It ensures homeless veterans have access to shelters, in compliance with the State and local codes, and would require the Secretary to establish and maintain a burn pit registry program for individuals who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals.
During the committee markup, I offered an amendment that would limit the amount the VA would pay in performance awards to senior staff from fiscal year 2013 to 2017 to adequately cover the costs associated with H.R. 4057, along with the provisions included from the other three bills.
My colleagues, in the last 3 years, the worst economic climate this country has seen since the Great Depression, almost 800,000 VA employees received monetary awards totaling $1.1 billion. This limitation amendment I offered affects only the Senior Executive Service, the SES, as they are called, who are considered to be like the generals of the Federal workforce and make between $120- and $180,000 a year.
The VA has an agency that has underperformed, yet they continue to provide performance bonuses at the expense of taxpayers and the well-being of our veterans. Today's VA backlog stands at 840,000 claims, of which more than 55 percent have been pending for more than 125 days. It is unconscionable that these senior executive employees are receiving bonuses averaging $40,000 a year, on top of their six-figure salaries, when the number of backlog claims is close to the number of monetary awards given.
Today, September 11, is a day every American will never forget. I urge all my colleagues to support passage of this bill, and by doing so we honor our veterans and servicemembers by supplying them with these needed resources to help rebuild their lives. Mr. Speaker, today is a day we'll never forget. We'll always remember the sacrifices of those brave men and women, and in passage of this bill we will remind everybody of our appreciation for them.
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