Remarks On His Amendment Advocating for Veterans Health Care and Jobs

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Washington, March 17, 2017 | comments
Mr. Chairman, I want to thank the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Veterans Affairs’ Committee and Representative Wenstrup for their work on this important bill. This legislation empowers the Secretary of Veterans Affairs with the authority to hire the best and brightest employees.

We can all agree that you can’t have a top-notch VA without employing young veterans who want to continue serving their country after they return from the front lines.

Each and every day, our brave men and women in uniform put their lives on the line for us, and we owe it to them to ensure that when they return home they have the best care at the VA and that they also have the best career opportunities available to them. This is about veterans serving veterans.

Young veterans in the Fifth District of New Jersey where I live tell me that they face significant challenges when they return home, even though many of them have a desire to help serve other veterans.

I was lucky enough to hire one such veteran on my team – Mike DeVilliers [Deh-Vill-ee-ers], who served in the U.S. Army. Mike is committed to helping other veterans and has at a local community college where he a ran a program for student-veterans. He now serves my constituents, including our veterans, and across the four counties in the Fifth District.

We should be encouraging talented and qualified young veterans like Mike to put their skills to use and give back to their fellow servicemen and women.

The VA is one place those skills are sorely needed to best serve the 473,000 veterans who live in New Jersey and the many other veterans across the country.

Mr. Speaker, approximately 60 percent of VA employees are over the age of 45, and the Department has struggled to develop an adequate pipeline for younger employees and emerging leaders to fill critical roles.

We’ve seen the negative effects of not having the right team in place to support our veterans.

While programs like Pathways at the VA are a step in the right direction, we can do more to improve the process and give a leg up to all veterans who wish to bring their skills to the VA.

More than half of all post-9/11 veterans are 34 years of age or younger, and approximately 30% have a bachelors or advanced degree. Yet the Department of Labor reported that post-9/11 vets face a higher unemployment rate than other veterans.

The VA should draw from this excellent source of talent to strengthen the care all of our veterans receive by considering more young veterans for excepted service appointments.

That is why my amendment would make sure that the VA Secretary includes recipients of the Post-9/11 GI bill and young veterans who have recently graduated from college as a distinct category qualifying for excepted service appointments to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mr. Chairman, the mission statement of the VA is inscribed outside of the Department’s headquarters. It reads: "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan." This is President Lincoln’s promise to serving and honoring the men and women who are America's heroes.

I know of no one who stands more willing and able to serve fellow veterans than their brothers and sisters in arms.

There is nothing partisan about serving our vets. This is a common sense solution without any new costs. And it’s a perfect example of working across party lines to help get the backs of those who served.

I urge my colleagues to join me in standing up for our veterans by supporting this win-win solution.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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