Wenstrup proposal would establish new office within Veterans Affairs

U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) on April 26 introduced a bipartisan bill to restructure the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by grouping all veteran transition, education and employment programs into a new government office within the VA.

The Veterans’ Education, Transition and Opportunity Prioritization Plan (VET OPP) Act of 2018, H.R. 5644, would establish the Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration within the VA to be overseen by a newly created Under Secretary of Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition. Cosponsors of H.R. 5644 include U.S. Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Mark Takano (D-CA).

A companion bill in the U.S. Senate was introduced the same day by U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), according to Rep. Wenstrup’s staff.

“It’s critical that our service members have access to resources that assist them with finding jobs or educational opportunities as they make the transition to civilian life,” said Rep. Wenstrup, a member of the U.S. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Currently, VA operations are segmented into three separate administrations: the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery Administration. If enacted, H.R. 5644 would transfer education and employment programs from the VBA to the Veterans Economic Opportunity and Transition Administration.

The goal would be to make the GI Bill, the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program and other critical programs operate more efficiently, according to a statement from Rep. Wenstrup’s office.

“By placing educational, employment, training and transition programs together in a fourth administration within the VA, we will bring more transparency and oversight to these programs, while also placing greater priority on opportunity-based programs within the VA,” Rep. Wenstrup said. “This is consistent with our effort to invest in our troops from the day they take their oath of service to when they begin their civilian careers.”

Rep. Takano said that job training and educational and transition assistance programs are often as important to a military veteran’s quality of life as are other programs that “receive far more attention and oversight.”

“This legislation reflects the importance of providing returning service members with a clear path to a rewarding and successful civilian life,” said Rep. Takano. “The most meaningful way to honor our veterans’ service and sacrifice is by ensuring they have the tools and support they need to live with dignity in the country they fought to protect.”

The VA’s outdated structure has allowed economic opportunity and transition programs for veterans to “fall by the wayside” for too long, according to Sen. Rubio, who said the legislation would provide “more direct oversight and accountability over existing programs aimed at helping our veterans lead economically prosperous lives post-service.”

Additionally, the bill would direct the VA to create the new administration within existing resources and cap the number of full-time employees to avoid growing government and adding new bureaucracy at the VA, according to Wenstrup’s office.

Several national organizations already support the proposal, including the American Legion, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America, Veterans Education Success, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Enterprise Institute.

H.R. 5644 has been referred to the U.S. Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The Senate measure hasn’t yet been recorded in the congressional record.