Rep. Cisneros Testifies for 39th District Priorities in House Appropriations Committee Member Day

March 10, 2020
Press Release
Cisneros highlighted Orange County Veterans’ Cemetery, Mt. SAC VSOC Program, and VR&E

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representative Gilbert. R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-29) testified at a Member Day for the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies.

Rep. Cisneros highlighted district veteran priorities and programs that should be included in the Fiscal Year 2021 Budget, including the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program, the Veteran Success on Campus (VSOC) program, and Grants Construction of State Veterans Cemeteries to support a veterans’ cemetery in Orange County. The full text of his submitted testimony to the Committee is below and can be downloaded here:

Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, Ranking Member Carter, and members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to provide input on the FY 2021 Appropriations process on behalf of the residents of California’s 39th Congressional District. 

As a Navy Veteran with the honor of representing over 25,000 veterans, the programs under your jurisdiction are important to me, our veterans, and their families. I would like to take this opportunity to highlight just a few examples of the federal programs that most benefit my district.

First, I urge you to provide strong funding levels for the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program. The veterans in the 39th district rely on VR&E for job training, employment accommodations, resume development, and job-seeking skills coaching. I appreciate that the President’s Budget Request will keep the VA on track to maintain the required ratio of 1 counselor to 125 veterans. However, my constituents continue to face unnecessary frustration with the program which transfers veterans from one counselor to another, without ever notifying the veteran or ensuring a warm handoff.  As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I have raised this issue with Secretary Wilkie. But in the interim, continued federal funding is necessary to ensure the VA remains on track to properly serve veterans nationwide.

Similarly, my district is lucky to have a Veteran Success on Campus (VSOC) program at Mt. San Antonio Community College (Mt. SAC) in Walnut. VSOC counselors understand the unique challenges that face veteran students. I’ve heard from countless student veterans about the need to expand the VSOC program to the other colleges and universities in the 39th District. With long travel times and heavy traffic congestion, it’s unacceptable that our veterans have to jump through so many hoops just to access their education and vocational benefits. According to the President’s budget request, the current VSOC funding levels supports only 104 campuses nationwide. Sufficient funding must be available to support our veterans at college campuses.

Further, I urge you to provide increased funding for Grants for Construction of State Veterans Cemeteries to support a veteran’s cemetery in Orange County. Last year, I testified before this Subcommittee to express my support for state-level efforts. Since my testimony, local officials have been working with the state to finalize a location and have secured $20 million in the state’s budget. Federal funding will need to be available in order to bridge the gap in the state’s allocation and get this project across the finish line. I urge you to increase the VA’s State Cemetery Grant program funding so this long overdue project does not suffer any further delays. 

I encourage you to provide strong funding for VA homeless assistance programs. While substantial national progress has been made, sustained funding is needed until the numbers have been reduced to zero. This includes the highly effective Supportive Services for Veterans Families Program. Volunteers of America in Orange County uses this funding to provide rapid re-housing and assistance obtaining benefits. This also includes the VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program which supports supportive services and supportive housing for homeless veterans in Diamond Bar. 

Finally, although I understand that these programs are not under the direct purview of this Subcommittee, I would be remiss if I did not urge you to work with your colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee to reject the President’s proposal to cut other programs that serve our veterans. For instance, as of January 2019, there are 37,085 homeless veterans, and yet the President’s budget request completely eliminates funding for HUD-VASH vouchers for the fourth year in a row. I know your commitment to serving our nation’s veterans transcends partisanship.  I hope you will continue that commitment in other areas of the budget.

Thank you again for your time and consideration. I know you have a tough job ahead of you, but I hope you will keep these stories in mind as you craft the FY 2021 Appropriations Act for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies.