Marco Rubio, Gus Bilirakis Want to Add Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration to VA

This week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., paired up with U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, to bring out a proposal to create a new federal administration in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help veterans with a Florida congressman throwing his support behind it.

Rubio, Hassan, U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, unveiled the “Veterans’ Education, Transition, and Opportunity Prioritization Plan (VET OPP) Act.”

“Currently, the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) is responsible for all Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits provided to veterans outside of healthcare and cemetery services. While there are many different benefits that VBA provides, the bulk of staffing and resources have been directed towards the administration of disability compensation and pension claims. This has resulted in a lack of attention on the administration of other VBA benefits, such as the Forever GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation, Home Loan benefits, and VA’s portion of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP),” Rubio’s office noted. “The VET OPP Act would address this issue by realigning transition, education, and employment programs at VA under a new administration, the Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration. This new administration would be accountable to a presidentially appointed undersecretary and would be created using existing resources to avoid additional bureaucracy.”

Rubio weighed in on why he had introduced the bill.

“As our nation’s veterans transition back to civilian life, we must ensure the VA adapts to the 21st century needs of our service men and women as they pursue civilian employment opportunities,” Rubio said. “By creating a Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Assistance Administration, this legislation would modernize the outdated structure of the VA and provide more direct oversight and accountability over existing programs aimed at helping our veterans lead economically prosperous lives post-service.”

“This bipartisan bill will help ensure that our brave veterans who have sacrificed for our freedoms have the support and resources to help them smoothly transition into our civilian workforce and leverage their unique skills and experience to pursue careers that further support our economy,” said Hassan. “By prioritizing education, housing, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and military-to-civilian transition services at the VA, this legislation is a step forward in our efforts to build a country that is ever-worthy of the selfless sacrifice of our veterans.”

“As a member of the Armed Services, I know how important it is to help our warfighters succeed in their transition to civilian life,” said Wenstrup. “By aligning transition, education, and employment programs in a Fourth Administration within the VA, we will ensure that these opportunity-focused programs get the high priority they deserve, and the oversight they need to better serve veterans.”

“We have a responsibility to provide America’s servicemembers with the best possible resources and opportunities as they transition back to civilian life, and we must do more to meet that responsibility,” said Levin. “Education, job training, and transition assistance programs are critical to veterans’ economic success, but many veterans aren’t receiving these opportunities because of bureaucratic red tape at the VA. This bipartisan bill will allow us to deliver those resources more effectively by creating a new Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration at the VA and bringing more oversight to economic programs for veterans. As Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, I will continue to work across the aisle on measures to ensure that military families like those around Camp Pendleton have the economic support they need.”

Republicans on the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, including U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., threw their support behind the bill.

“Helping veterans successfully transition to civilian life and pursue the American dream should be VA’s highest priority. However, last fall, the failed full implementation of the Forever GI Bill shined a light on the lack of attention that veteran education, transition, and employment programs were getting at VA,” said Roe who leads the GOP on the committee. “This bipartisan legislation would create a fourth administration within VA to house all of these important programs under one roof to ensure they receive the support they deserve and don’t continue to fall through the cracks.”

“This important bipartisan legislation uses existing resources to create a bureau within the VA that specifically focuses on supporting veterans as they transition to civilian life,” said Bilirakis who had been the vice chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee. “This is a priority for me, as it will allow greater focus on ensuring the smooth administration of educational benefits, removing barriers to economic success, and improving transition assistance programs.”

Several veterans groups including Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Student Veterans of America, Disabled Veterans of America (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans Education Success are backing the proposal.

Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.

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