Connecticut has approximately 222,000 veterans, and 600 active duty, National Guard and Reserve troops, including over 100 from Connecticut’s 3rd District, have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Rosa believes that as a nation we have an obligation to ensure that these brave men and women who serve our country, as well as their families, have access to the medical care they need, an affordable education and opportunities for a good, well-paying job.
As an appropriator, Rosa supported the 2008 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill which provided the largest single increase in the 77-year history of the VA, as well as subsequent bills through 2010 that provided a 70 percent increase in funding for veterans’ health care and benefits. Rosa has since supported appropriations that build upon that effort, including the 2013 bill passed by the House, which will provide quality medical care to more than 6.3 million patients in 2013, including 610,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. As Congress addresses the deficit, Rosa will not support any measure that seeks to reduce the deficit on the backs of our veterans.
Rosa is also especially concerned with the quality of mental health care available to service-members and veterans. Accordingly, Rosa introduced legislation to, among other things, ensure that troops deploying to combat theaters get the mental health screening they need before and after deployment. Rosa successfully led an effort to amend the Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Authorization Bill to create a post-deployment mental health screening program, and the final bill included language instituting such a screening program across all services.
Rosa recognizes the need to continually improve the conditions at the West Haven Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and has worked to secure construction funding for the facility. Rosa also brought Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki to see the Center’s conditions first hand and to take part in a roundtable discussion on the various issues facing veterans today with local Veterans Service Organizations, Connecticut VA representatives, members of the state legislature, and other veterans’ advocates.
Rosa co-sponsored the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill, greatly expanding educational benefits for our post-9/11 veterans. The law offers the men and women who have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan educational benefits on par with those provided to veterans of the World War II era. Among other things, the law provides these veterans, including Guard and Reservists, who served 3 years on active duty, benefits to cover the costs of a four-year education at the most expensive in-state public school, along with a stipend for housing, books and other expenses.
While many veterans are taking advantage of these benefits, those pursuing on the job training and apprenticeships were not be provided an equal benefit in the bill. In order to close this loophole, Rosa introduced the Post 9/11 Veterans’ Job Training Act to expand the opportunities under the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to include a subsidy to help veterans participating in on the job training and apprenticeship programs to help cover housing costs, tutoring, testing and certification fees, and relocation and travel expenses. Similar legislation was included in the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act signed into law in 2010.
Rosa is also a lead co-sponsor of the bipartisan Military and Veterans Education Protection Act, which would address the misuse by for-profit colleges of tuition benefits afforded to veterans and service-members through the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and other Defense Department tuition assistance programs. Currently, proprietary schools are exploiting a loophole that allows them to receive all of their profits from financial aid, and they are trying to enroll as many veterans and service members as possible, often under false pretenses, to inflate profits. In the 2010-11 school year, for-profit schools collected $1.5 billion in Post-9/11 G.I. bill tuition payments equaling nearly 1/3 of total disbursements made by the VA. Yet, a loophole in the 90/10 funding formula meant to ensure for-profit schools derive at least 10% of their tuition funds from private sources, allowed the for-profit institutions to consider all $1.5 billion as privately funded. This bill closes that 90/10 loophole.
In 2011, the average unemployment rate for new veterans – those serving since September 2001 - was 12.1%, compared to an 8.7% annual average for non-veterans. In 2011, the unemployment rate for new veterans aged 18-24 was a staggering 30.2 percent, almost double the 16.3% unemployment faced by non-veterans in this age group. With a projected one million more men and women returning to civilian life in the next five years, Rosa believes we have to be sure we are doing everything we can to facilitate the transition from the battlefield back to the job market.
As the Senior Democrat on the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Rosa supports funding programs at the Department of Labor that help veterans maximize their employment opportunities. These funds have supported efforts to develop veterans’ jobs skills by The Workplace, Inc., one of nine Regional Workforce Development Boards in Connecticut that assesses regional employment and training needs and coordinates workforce development policies and programs to meet them.
Rosa also supported the recently enacted Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act, a bill signed into law that provides businesses with tax credits to encourage them to hire service-members and veterans with service-related disabilities while overhauling the military’s Transition Assistance Program to provide veterans with baseline training for getting work in the civilian job market and creating a job training program for unemployed older veterans.
Veterans Advisory Council
Rosa established a Veterans Advisory Council made up of local veterans and veterans’ advocates in order to ensure local concerns are being addressed.
For too long, the lack of available parking at the West Haven VA Medical Center made it unnecessarily difficult for veterans to access their health care benefits. Having heard from the veterans of her district and witnessing the situation herself, Rosa strongly advocated for the implementation of the valet parking service, which the hospital now offers for free. To take advantage of the service, veterans need only to arrive at the main entrance of Building 2 where they will be greeted by a uniformed attendant who will park and retrieve their vehicles. The service is available weekdays from 6:30 am to 6:00 pm.
Rosa in June 2012 announced the opening of a new veterans’ Office of Advocacy and Assistance in the Parsons Government Building in Milford. The new office replaces one in West Haven that had to be shut down due to building damage from Tropical Storm Irene. The work previously done in the Third District had been split up between Bridgeport and Newington after the West Haven office was closed. The Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs has a veterans’ service office in each Congressional District.