Last week, AMVETS was out in force on Capitol, testifying before the Senate, meeting with House minority leadership and submitting remarks on veterans' employment assistance.
On Wednesday morning, AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof appeared alongside the Independent Budget partners--Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars--and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs to discuss the fiscal year 2012 VA budget proposal.
It was the first full committee hearing to be chaired by newly-selected Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash. Murray is the first woman to hold the powerful position on the committee.
On the first panel of the hearing, Murray and Ranking Member Richard Burr, R-S.C., expressed bipartisan disappointment with VA over the proposed implementation of the new VA caregiver benefits, saying that the Wade family, which advocated for the critical services in the bill, would not be eligible under the current threshold.
"It's important to remember why we wrote [caregiver]," said Murray. "The narrow draft excludes many of the people we believed it would cover."
Burr pointed out that the intention of the bill was to ensure that institutional care was not the only option for severely-wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, but under VA's issued guidelines, institutional care was now the threshold to qualify for the benefit.
The committee called on Secretary Shinseki to recall the proposal from the Office of Management and Budget and rewrite the guidelines.
"If it goes the way it is written, [VA] will be in for one hell of a fight," said Burr.
During the hearing, VA's proposal to expand its central office in the 2012 budget also became a heated topic of discussion, drawing criticism from committee Republicans who want to see fiscally responsible decision-making across the federal government.
While veterans' advocates testifying did not wish to speculate on why VA requested the expansion, Roof said that if the choice came between VA hiring health care practitioners or speech writers, that VA should focus on its mission to deliver services to veterans.
To view a full list of witnesses, to read prepared remarks and to view video from the hearing, Click Here.
Wednesday afternoon, Roof also participated in a roundtable discussion with House minority leadership, chaired by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the nation's leading military and veterans' advocates.
Democratic leadership has hosted regular roundtable discussions with the veterans community for the last few years in an effort to better understand the unique issues facing American service men and women during a time of war.
Major topics of discussion included the ongoing VA claims backlog, veterans' educational opportunities, unemployment and homelessness.
On Thursday, AMVETS was also represented during the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing on the budget for Veterans Employment and Training Service, or VETS, and state grant programs.
To view a full list of participants and to read their prepared remarks, Click Here.
Roof submitted testimony for the record, which focused on two state grant programs, the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program, or DVOP, and Local Veterans Employment Representative, or LVER.
In her remarks, Roof said that both DVOP and LVER programs lacked proper metrics to measure success in placing veterans in quality jobs. Under the current system, any veteran who seeks information from a DVOP or LVER office is recorded as a "veteran having received counseling," and veterans who find employment without the assistance of DVOP or LVER is considered a successful placement and a positive termination.
Given the inconsistencies among each state-administered DVOP and LVER program, AMVETS recommended to the committee that DVOP and LVER be at least temporarily federalized to ensure proper oversight, management and placement of veterans seeking assistance.
AMVETS also recommended stricter enforcement of standards within each program and allocation of program funds based on performance of each DVOP or LVER.
To read Roof's prepared remarks and AMVETS' full recommendations on DVOP and LVER, Click Here.
This week, AMVETS will once again be on Capitol Hill for a series of meetings in preparation for next week's LZ:DC events.
American Veteran will continue to follow the work of the AMVETS National Legislative Department closely. We will also bring you highlights of next week's work on Capitol Hill as it happens. Check back regularly for updates.
(Images: Top: AMVETS National Deputy Legislative Director Christina Roof testifies on the proposed VA budget before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Middle: VA Secretary Eric Shinseki discusses the proposed VA budget before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. Bottom: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hosts a roundtable discussion with the nation's leading military and veterans' advocates, including AMVETS. Photos by Ryan Gallucci.)