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Effort underway in Congress to add a fourth administration to the VA

ANDREA VILLARI/STARS AND STRIPES

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 3, 2019

WASHINGTON — Legislation introduced in Congress on Wednesday would create a fourth administration within the Department of Veterans Affairs – one dedicated solely to veterans’ transition into education and employment.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Veterans’ Education, Transition, and Opportunity Prioritization Plan, or VET OPP Act, in the House and Senate. It would create the Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration at the VA and add a new senior official to lead it. Lawmakers said the new administration could be established using existing VA resources.

“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,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, one of the sponsors of the House bill.

The VA is made up of three administrations: the National Cemetery Administration, the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration.

Programs and services such as the GI Bill, vocational rehabilitation, home loan benefits and the Transition Assistance Program now fall under the Veterans Benefits Administration. Lawmakers who introduced the VET OPP Act argue the benefits administration is focusing most of its staff and resources on veterans’ claims for disability compensation, resulting in a lack of attention on education and employment programs.

Last year, Student Veterans of America went to Capitol Hill to fight for a fourth administration. The group, which represents GI Bill recipients nationwide, argued VA economic opportunity programs were buried in the agency’s bureaucracy.

The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank, wrote in a report last March that procuring employment and education after military service creates stress for veterans. The think tank supported the idea that a new VA division would help “raise the profile” of available assistance.

Economic opportunity programs have been “neglected” and “smothered” by more pressing issues within the benefits administration, which has been working through a large backlog of veterans’ claims for disability benefits, the report states.

Lauren Augustine, vice president of government affairs for Student Veterans of America, said Wednesday that VA education and employment programs are “truly unique and separate” from other operations managed by the benefits administration.

“Separating the appointed management of these programs honors that difference, creates greater accountability, attention and leadership over some of the most successful and empowering programs and benefits currently administered by VA,” Augustine said in a statement.

In addition to Wenstrup, the bills were introduced by Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., and Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. So far, it has the support of several major veterans organizations, including Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Disabled Veterans of America, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans Education Success.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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