Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, as incoming chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, one of my top priorities will be to evaluate and improve the training and employment programs afforded to our Nation's servicemembers and veterans.
Every day, far too many young veterans face the harsh realities of unemployment. These are brave men and women who have put their lives on the line defending our country who now struggle to find employment and provide for their families. The Putting Our Veterans Back to Work Act of 2013 will ensure we provide them with much needed support.
This legislation would reauthorize several of the transition, retraining, and employment services created by the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. That legislation is making a real impact in the lives of countless veterans by providing them with the training opportunities they need in order to secure meaningful employment.
Too often I hear from veterans that the government provides great resources for them to find training and employment opportunities, but they are not sure where to start in order to tap into those resources. Those Departments charged with helping to provide veterans with employment assistance must make certain that they are conducting appropriate outreach so that veterans know where to turn when they need help.
Assisting in this effort, the Putting Our Veterans Back to Work Act would also provide veterans with a new, unified, online employment portal for veterans seeking information regarding employment and job training resources. This online portal would make it easier for veterans to take advantage of the services and opportunities available to them.
At a time when 85 percent of law enforcement agencies were forced to reduce their budget, according to a 2011 survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, answering the Nation's public safety needs is also a priority. That is why this legislation would provide potential employers with additional grants for first responder hiring and re-hiring needs.
This legislation would also direct agency heads to favorably consider contractors that employ a significant number of veterans for all contracts over $25 million. This provision would ensure that contractors, who are doing their part to help veterans find good paying jobs, have a competitive advantage when doing business with the Federal government.
Finally, the Putting Our Veterans Back to Work Act would strengthen our commitment to protecting the employment rights of servicemembers and veterans. These commonsense provisions would build upon existing law by providing the government with additional tools to carry out its obligation to safeguard veterans' employment rights. This legislation would enable the Attorney General to investigate and file suit against a pattern or practice in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and to issue limited civil investigative demands for relevant documentary material. It would also allow Federal agencies to suspend and debar contractors who repeatedly violate the employment and reemployment rights of members of the uniformed services. Finally, it would provide the Special Counsel with authority to subpoena attendance, testimony, and documents from Federal employees and agencies in order to carry out investigations related to USERRA.
Mr. President, there are a number of great training and employment programs available to veterans. This legislation would strengthen such programs and make certain that veterans have and maintain access to those programs. That is what our veterans are entitled to and that is what we must deliver.