The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) monitors all legislation affecting veterans, alerts VFW membership to key legislation under consideration and actively lobbies Congress and the administration on veterans issues. With VFW’s own priority goals in mind, combined with the support of 2 million members of VFW and its auxiliaries, our voice on “the Hill” cannot be ignored!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

VFW Testifies on Education, Employment and VA Executive Performance

Yesterday afternoon, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hosted a hearing to discuss legislation pending before the committee related to education, employment, student veteran services and VA disciplinary procedure. VFW Deputy Legislative Director Ryan Gallucci testified before the subcommittee, offering the VFW’s perspective on each pending bill, as well as recommendations to improve the committee’s concepts.

To view a list of witnesses from the hearing, read their prepared remarks and view an archived webcast, click here.

The VFW has consistently advocated for improved student services and employment resources for veterans. However, the VFW has always been frustrated by the lack of quality data on the student veteran experience and inconsistencies in employment resources. This is why the VFW proudly supported efforts from Subcommittee Ranking Member Mark Takano, D-Calif., to report on peer-to-peer support for student veterans; Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., to survey student veterans; and Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., to conduct a longitudinal study of services delivered by Department of Labor Veterans Employment and Training Service, or VETS.

In his remarks, Gallucci paid close attention to student veteran issues in higher education, once again expressing his frustration with how some have manipulated incomplete Department of Education data to portray a false narrative about student veterans.

“Many draw conclusions [about student veterans] based on bad information,” Gallucci said. “In my office, my colleagues and I joke that by Department of Education standards, none of us is considered a college graduate. We need quality information to demonstrate student veteran success.”

Gallucci went on to explain that the only reliable data on student veteran outcomes in higher education had been released by Student Veterans of America, or SVA, earlier in the week through the SVA Million Records Project, and that SVA’s report, along with a proper survey of student veterans and a valid report on peer outreach on college campuses would allow policy-makers to better understand the student veteran experience.

Gallucci offered recommendations to the subcommittee on the current proposal to commission a pilot program on peer-to-peer student veteran services, explaining that a pilot would only duplicate programs already underway at many college campuses around the country. Gallucci shared the story of Kenneth Wiseman, VFW’s student veteran liaison for Virginia and graduate student peer mentor at Old Dominion University. Wiseman’s home campus of Old Dominion already employs nearly a dozen VA WorkStudy veterans to deliver peer-to-peer support for veterans, and through his work around Virginia, Wiseman is helping other schools similarly boost their peer support services.

In lieu of commissioning a pilot on peer support, Gallucci recommended identifying current peer support programs like the one at Old Dominion on a diverse selection of college campuses and producing a report on their efficacy, and that the VFW looked forward to working with Takano and his staff to make it happen.

Subcommittee Chairman Bill Flores, R-Texas, also focused on the committee’s proposal to give the VA secretary broader authority to fire executive-level employees for poor performance. In the wake of several high-profile incidents of negligence in VA medical facilities, the committee was disturbed to learn that those in executive leadership positions were neither disciplined nor removed. The VFW echoed the committee’s concerns over the difficulty in firing executive-level VA employees, but warned against swinging the pendulum too far in favor of political appointees who could use the new rules to hire and fire executives for political purposes. The VFW instead recommended tightening the current disciplinary rules by closing off the current open-ended appeal system that often prevents VA from disciplining executives for poor performance. Gallucci agreed that the recent examples of negligence sent the wrong message to the veterans community and said that the VFW looked forward to working with the committee to ensure executives would be held accountable for poor performance.

The VFW has been one of the leading voices in the veterans’ community on improving transitional, educational and employment resources for veterans. VFW Washington Office staff will continue to work with the subcommittee to finely tune each of the bills up for discussion prior to the subcommittee’s pending markup on April 8. Check back regularly for updates.

(Image: VFW Deputy Legislative Director Ryan Gallucci testifies on pending legislation before the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. Photo by Aleks Morosky.)

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