This week, the House is in recess and the Senate will work on a Veterans Affairs funding bill. Before leaving town, 35 lawmakers—from across the political spectrum—sent a letter urging a vote on authorizing force against ISIS. And President Obama is urging Congress to “ban the box” to give formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance at employment.


But first, here’s a look at Veterans Day, as we honor our nation’s veterans and spotlight a few bills related to the GI Bill:

Veterans Day: November 11

Veterans Day falls on November 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I. “Armistice Day” under President Woodrow Wilson originally honored those who served in WWI and commemorated the armistice that brought the war to an end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11 month of 1918. In 1954, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day under President Dwight Eisenhower to commemorate veterans of all wars.

A Snapshot of Our Nation’s Veterans from the US Census Bureau

Last week, Senator Johnny Isakson [R-GA], Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, highlighted the committee’s work on behalf of veterans in the 114th Congress ahead of Veterans Day, including the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, improvements to the Veterans Choice Program and the Veterans Identification Card Act.

Updating the Post-9/11 GI Bill

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944—commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights—with key provisions that offered veterans education and training, loan guaranty for homes, farms or businesses, and unemployment pay. In 1947, veterans accounted for 49 percent of college admissions as a result of the GI Bill.

In 2008, the GI Bill was updated again to address the needs of veterans with active duty service on, or after, Sept.11 2001. Today, nearly 550 service members transition from military to civilian life each day. One-half of eligible veterans use their GI Bill benefit to pursue higher education or a specialized training program or apprenticeship.

This year, lawmakers have introduced several proposals to expand the post-9/11 GI Bill and close loopholes to reduce waste in the program:

Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition (VET) Act (S 1870)
Sponsor: Sen. Jerry Moran [R, KS]

“Establishes a 3-year pilot program that would enable up to 250 GI Bill benefit-eligible veterans who apply to the program to start a new business or purchase an existing business or franchise,” according to the sponsor.

“The VET Act proposes an innovative way to support veterans in their professional development by offering veterans a choice in accessing the resources, training and support they need to pursue the American dream to start a small business, create jobs, and generate growth in our economy.”

Military and Veterans Education Protection Act (S 1664 and HR 3988 in the House)
Sponsor: Senator Tom Carper [D, DE] and Jackie Speier [D, CA-14]

“Would close a loophole that allows for-profit schools to avoid having to secure at least 10 percent of their revenue from non-federal sources.”

From our Hill Sources: Under current law, for-profit schools must follow the “90-10 rule” which requires them to obtain at least 10 percent of their revenues from sources other than taxpayers. However, current law leaves open a loophole that allows for-profit institutions to count military and veteran educational assistance, including tuition assistance and Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, as non-federal revenues.

Veterans STEM Education Program Act (HR 3949)
Sponsor: Rep. Marc Veasey [D, TX-33]

“Would provide additional authority to the Veterans Affairs Secretary to grant funds to post 9/11 veterans seeking to obtain a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields,” according to the sponsor.

GI Bill Education Quality Enhancement Act (HR 476)
Sponsor: Rep. Brad Wenstrup [R, OH-2]

“Would cap flight training fees paid for by the GI Bill at $20,235 a year,” according to the sponsor.

“Some flight schools discovered there was no limit to what they could charge veteran students taking flight school courses. Unfortunately, as a result, some private contractors have exploited this loophole to leverage uncapped fees to charge upwards of $500,000 per student.”


Senate Proceeds with Veterans Affairs Funding Bill

Last week, the Senate agreed to consider the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Bill, which provides funding for veterans’ benefits and programs and makes funding available to equip, support and house military personnel. Senators voted 93-0 to advance the bill—the first spending bill Senate Democrats have allowed to move forward for FY 2016.

This week, the Senate will consider a substitute amendment to H.R. 2029 that adjusts funding to comport with the two-year Balanced Budget Act of 2015:

Substitute Amendment to the FY 2016 MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill (HR 2029) 

“Recommends a total of $79.7 billion in discretionary funding, a more than $2.1 billion increase over the committee-reported bill. This amount is $7.9 billion above the FY2015 funding level and $1.0 billion over the President’s FY 2016 budget request,”according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“The substitute recommends $8.2 billion for military construction and $71.2 billion in discretionary funding for veterans programs, a $1.9 billion over the committee’s mark for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The increase of $1.9 billion is for VA Medical Services, increasing the total to $50.7 billion for the treatment and care for approximately 6.9 million veterans in FY2016. The substitute would provide a total of $101 million for the Arlington National Cemetery, a $30 million increase over the committee-approved bill.”


“Ban the Box”

Last week, President Obama called on Congress to pass meaningful criminal justice reform, including reforms that reduce recidivism, or relapsing into criminal behavior resulting in rearrest, reconviction or return to prison. He also directed the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to modify its rules to delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process, which most federal agencies already do.

Additionally, the President urged Congress to pass sentencing reform and legislation that would “ban the box” for federal hiring and hiring by federal contractors:

Fair Chance Act (S 2021 and HR 3470 in the House)
Sponsor: Sen. Cory Booker [D, NJ] and Rep. Elijah Cummings [D, MD-7]

“Would give formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance at securing employment by prohibiting federal contractors and federal agencies from asking about the criminal history of a job applicant until an applicant receives a conditional offer of employment,” according to the sponsor.

“Nationwide, states and cities have been implementing “Ban the Box”polices to help people with records overcome the barrier to employment of having to “check the box” about a past felony conviction on a job application. Eighteen states and over 100 cities and counties have taken action, giving formerly incarcerated people a fairer chance to secure employment. Additionally, companies such as Walmart, Koch Industries, Target, Starbucks, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath & Beyond have embraced these “Ban the Box” policies to more fairly assess job applicants.” – Sen. Cory Booker

The President also urged Congress to pass sentencing reform:

Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S 2123)
Sponsor: Sen. Chuck Grassley [R, IA]

“Grants judges greater sentencing flexibility for certain low-level drug offenders and establishes recidivism reduction programs, while targeting violent criminals,” according to the sponsor.

The bill passed the committee by a bipartisan 15-5 vote. (Learn more in this Weekly Update)

Background: Each year, more than 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons. According to the Department of Justice, a study that tracked more than 400,000 prisoners in 30 states after their release from prison in 2005 found that two-thirds (67%) were rearrested within three years of release. Property offenders were the most likely to be rearrested, with 82% released property offenders arrested for a new crime, compared with 77% of drug offenders and 71% of violent offenders. (Source)



Authorizing Military Force Against ISIS

A week after the Obama Administration announced that it is sending approximately 50 special operations troops into Syria in an advisory role, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers is urging a vote on authorizing force against ISIS. In a letter sent Friday, 35 House members, including liberal Democrats, Republicans and members of the conservative Freedom Caucus, asked to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) for a vote:

“We do not share the same policy prescriptions for US military engagement in the region, but we do share the belief that it is past time for the Congress to fulfill its obligations under the Constitution and vote on an AUMF that clearly delineates the authority and limits, if any, on US military engagement in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region.”

Earlier this year, President Obama sent to Congress a draft AUMF for Iraq and Syria:

– Submitted to Congress on Feb. 12, 2015 –
Would not authorize long‑term, large-scale ground combat operations like those our nation conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would provide the flexibility to conduct ground combat operations in other, more limited circumstances, such as rescue operations involving US or coalition personnel or the use of special operations forces to take military action against ISIL leadership. Would also authorize the use of US forces in situations where ground combat operations are not expected or intended, such as intelligence collection and sharing, missions to enable kinetic strikes, or the provision of operational planning and other forms of advice and assistance to partner forces.

Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.