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Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2019

Floor Speech

Date: June 7, 2018
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KILDEE. Mr. Chairman, this is a bipartisan amendment. It is very simple. It would expand the House Wounded Warrior Fellowship Program so that more wounded servicemembers have the opportunity to continue serving our country by working in congressional offices.

We need more veterans in public service. They bring unique perspectives and experiences, unlike any other. The veterans that I have been fortunate enough to hire in my office have given me invaluable support and allowed me to consider issues that are important to veterans in an important and much more enlightened fashion. Their voices are important in this body, more now than ever.

By investing in the Wounded Warrior Fellowship Program, more veterans will get a chance to serve. Expanding this program will enhance the professional development opportunities for those fellows.

We in Congress do talk a lot about ways to help veterans transition following their service in the military. This is an opportunity for us to actually do something about that and model what we think all employers ought to be doing.

It is a simple way to expand opportunities for veterans. It increases the number of veterans in public service. Again, in my office, I have benefited greatly from the veterans that I have hired. It is a bipartisan effort to continue to expand this program.

I ask my colleagues to pass this amendment. It is a small way to not only improve the function of our own offices but also say thanks to the brave men and women who have given so much for the freedom that we all enjoy.


Mr. KILDEE. Mr. Chair, I yield to the gentleman from New Jersey.


Mr. KILDEE. Mr. Chair, I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. KILDEE. Mr. Chairman, this amendment is intended to highlight the lack of urgency by the Air Force to address an ongoing drinking water emergency across the country, including one in my home district. I am not talking about Flint; I am talking about Oscoda, Michigan, at the northern end of my district, the home of the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base.

My constituents living there have had their drinking water contaminated by PFAS, perfluorinated chemicals, from the Air Force's use of firefighting foam. Exposure to PFAS has been linked to harmful health issues like cancer as well as thyroid, kidney, liver, heart, and reproductive problems. It is not just servicemembers but community members there.

Unfortunately, the more we learn about this dangerous class of chemicals, the more we are finding it in drinking water across the country. In my district alone, thousands of people have cancer-causing chemicals in their drinking water due to the Air Force's use of this material.

The Air Force does not seem to want to recognize this ongoing drinking water crisis. I have been pushing the Air Force to clean up the contamination in Oscoda and other communities. In fact, the entire Michigan delegation, Democrats and Republicans, wrote to appropriators asking for more funding for PFAS contamination.

While Members are prevented from earmarking legislation to send resources directly to clean up contamination in Oscoda, it is an urgent problem that I wanted to call attention to. This community is near this former Air Force Base. It is facing very serious water contamination issues.

You would think that the Air Force would request additional resources to clean up contamination, but, frustratingly, the Air Force has so far refused to request additional resources.

The Appropriations Committee even asked the Air Force if they needed more money. Let me repeat that. The Appropriations Committee even asked the Air Force if they needed more money to address this problem, but the Air Force responded that they did not need any additional funds.

I offer this amendment for the purpose of raising the issue. I know that it is not possible for us to designate these funds, so it is my intention to withdraw this.


Mr. KILDEE. Mr. Chairman, I thank my friend from Florida, the ranking member of the subcommittee, for her commitment to work on this.

This is a serious issue. I know Congress takes it seriously. I just would ask that the Air Force take it equally as seriously and request the funds necessary to clean up this really difficult problem.

With that, I know that this amendment could present some problems in terms of the way this legislation moved forward, but the commitment that I have that this will be getting the attention it deserves from Congress, I think, is important.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time, and I withdraw my amendment.

Mr. KILDEE. Mr. Chairman, my amendment would provide just over $2 billion to the vocational rehabilitation and employment account. This account invests in programs to help veterans successfully transition to civilian life.

Our country has been at war for nearly two decades. While these conflicts are still ongoing, the number of veterans in this country is going to continue to grow. We have to invest in programs that support this generation of veterans as they seek to reintegrate into the civilian workforce.

I just want to highlight a couple of important programs in this account.

The Special Employer Incentives program connects veterans with opportunities where the VA reimburses the employer for up to half of a veteran's salary. This is a program that matches veterans with apprenticeships, with the expectation of being hired upon completion.

I know from experience that our veterans bring unique perspective and skills to the workplace. I have hired, as I have said in previous conversations, multiple veterans working in my office, including a Wounded Warrior fellow and a HillVets fellow. We should ensure that we are supporting programs that connect veterans with employers.

My amendment would also ensure funding for the VA to expand its Veterans Economic Communities Initiative, a program in which nonprofits and educational institutions build supportive networks for veterans. This is exactly the kind of long-term support that we should have had in place years ago before launching into these conflicts.

For many Americans, the American Dream is owning your own business and being your own boss. The vocational rehabilitation and employment account includes programs that help veterans do just that.

The vocational rehabilitation and employment account also includes the VetSuccess on Campus program, which places vocational rehab counselors in partner schools.

This amendment would give the VA the opportunity to expand these programs, reaching even more veterans.

Unfortunately, as this process has moved forward, we have come to understand that the VA would intend to reduce the account for direct support for tuition and other supplies for veterans under their rights under the GI Bill.

I will ask that this amendment be withdrawn, but I want to make sure to make the point that we ought to have a specific carveout for these vocational programs, for these transition programs. It is my hope that, as we move forward, we will be able to work with the VA to be able to identify a source that would not reduce the other benefits that are available to veterans seeking to better themselves.

Mr. Chair, I yield back the balance of my time

Mr. Chair, I withdraw this amendment.