This was an historic week for IAVA as we dominated discussion on Capitol Hill and continued to punch far above our weight. This week we successfully delivered testimonies to THREE Congressional hearings and formally launched efforts to defend the Post 9/11 GI Bill from cuts to pay for spending in other veteran related programs.
Wednesday, following breakfast with IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, local IAVA members marched to Capitol Hill to hear Paul testify to a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Committees on IAVA priorities for 2016. His testimony focused on Continuing to Combat Veteran Suicide, Improving Health Services for Women Veterans, VA Accountability, and Defending the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The testimony was well-received, with House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Miller committing to a May 12 hearing on how the Clay Hunt SAV Act is being implemented. The testimony was also timely, given Congressional proposals to make huge cuts to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which IAVA led the fight to establish.
“The House’s recent use of the GI Bill as a piggy bank to fund other veterans programs is of great concern to IAVA,” Paul said, adding that the House-passed 50 percent reduction in the housing allowance for veterans’ children who will receive transferred GI Bill benefits is a “breach in trust.” Unless the committees jettison the GI Bill cuts, Paul promised that IAVA would continue to oppose their effort.
Separately, IAVA Legislative Associate, Lauren Augustine, provided written testimony to HVAC on measures to improve the ability of the VA Secretary to hire and retain medical personnel. Veterans “deserve the very best our nation can offer…and IAVA fully supports equipping the VA with the necessary authority to provide best-in-class hiring practices,” Lauren said.
Also the same day, IAVA Political and Intergovernmental Affairs Associate, Elizabeth Welke, provided written testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that included accounts from IAVA members’ frustrations with scheduling VA appointments. To improve the process, Elizabeth called on Congress to pass the Faster Care for Veterans Act (H.R. 4352) by Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), which would establish a VA pilot program under which veterans use a website to schedule and confirm appointments at VA medical facilities.
That afternoon, Paul and team had very productive meetings with key Members of Congress, securing commitments from Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to cosponsor one of IAVA’s top priorities – the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (S. 2487) by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), which takes strides to improve mental health programs for women veterans. It hasalready passed the House and awaits Senate action.