Brown Veterans Initiatives Clear Key Procedural Hurdle

Brown's VA Collective Bargaining and Disaster Relief Bills Pass Senate Committee; Brown Cheers Passage of Hiring Heroes Act and VA COLA Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Four veterans’ initiatives championed by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) cleared a key procedural hurdle today—the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act, and measures to the help disabled veterans with disaster relief assistance and extend collective bargaining for VA workers cleared the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. 

“Our state has nearly one million veterans who are an important part of our state’s heritage and economic competitiveness,” Brown said. “For more than 145 years, Ohio has been a leader in veterans’ services, but more can be done to improve access to benefits that Veterans have earned while ensuring a smooth transition to civilian life. That’s why the Veterans Programs Improvement Act is so important.”

The Hiring Heroes Act would ensure broad job skills training for all service members returning home and would help ensure that more jobs are available for veterans as they transition to civilian life.  For veterans aged 20-24, unemployment stands at a staggering 27 percent.  This bill would reduce unemployment among veterans transitioning to civilian life by ensuring that each separating service member attends a transition assistance program. The bill will also create new direct federal hiring authority so that more service members have jobs waiting for them the day they leave the military, and will improve veteran mentorship programs in the civilian working world.

“The unemployment rate for our nation’s youngest veterans is unacceptable. Veterans returning from active duty face enough challenges while transitioning to civilian life and as workers with specific skills and proven dedication, finding a good-paying job shouldn’t be one of them,” Brown said. “Veterans are critical to our nation’s economic competitiveness and we should honor their service and experience by ensuring that their transition to civilian life is a smooth and successful one.”

The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act would apply a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase to veterans’ disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children, and other related benefits. The COLA is designed to offset inflation and other factors that alter the cost of living over time and is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Consumer Price Index.” The COLA increase for veterans will match the annual increase provided to Social Security recipients. The increase for 2009 was 5.8 percent and there was no increase in 2010.

“As our nation’s economy continues to recover, we must ensure that veterans of every generation receive the care and benefits they have earned and deserved,” Brown said. “As all Americans struggle to afford rising food and gas prices, we need to ensure that American veterans and their families can make ends meet.”

Currently, VA registered nurses, doctors and dentists are prohibited from collectively bargaining to negotiate compensation—more specifically, overtime pay and performance pay. Brown’s bill would lift that prohibition and provide market pay and performance pay to physicians and dentists.

“Collective bargaining doesn’t just ensure fair wages and benefits.  It provides a seat at the table for the VA’s hardworking physicians and nurses,” Brown said. “Our veterans deserve first-rate care from the nation’s most qualified health care professionals. To ensure that, we must also ensure that these workers are fairly compensated.”

Finally, Brown’s measure to help disabled veterans whose homes were damaged due to natural disaster also passed today. The provision would authorize VA to provide disabled Veterans with Federal assistance in repairing damage to their homes that was caused by a natural disaster.  In order to qualify, Veterans must have already received assistance from the VA to modify their homes to accommodate disabilities. These include modifications that have been implemented through adaptive housing grants.

Currently 21 Ohio Counties—primarily in Appalachia—are seeking federal disaster declaration for storms in April and May of this year. Sen. Brown sent a letter of support urging President Obama to designate these counties for increased Federal assistance.

Brown, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, is the author of several legislative initiatives that would strengthen our nation's commitment to veterans by improving education reimbursements and expanding employment protection for former service members. Brown has held more than 140 community events since being sworn into office in 2007 - holding at least one roundtable discussion with community leaders in each of Ohio's 88 counties. Many of Brown's legislative priorities, including his jobs initiatives, originated from these discussions.

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