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Coronavirus

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 18, 2020
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BLUNT. Madam President, first, let me thank Senator Ernst for organizing this opportunity to talk about our veterans, to talk about those who serve and the obligations we have to them, to talk about their challenges. Last week, certainly Veterans Day was very much on our minds, but also we ought to be sure that our veterans are on our minds all the time.

We have appropriations bills we need to pass that will make a big difference in how veterans' issues are dealt with. Obviously we need to pass the appropriations bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and every veteran would want us to pass the appropriations bill for the Department of Defense. But there are also provisions in other bills that help veterans get back into society more effectively when they leave the military.

The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education bill that I talked about on the floor last week increases assistance for veterans' employment programs and veterans' training programs. It supports veterans when they move from the military workforce to the civilian workforce. It works to give homeless veterans a chance to have a home, have a job, have an opportunity--break through whatever barrier is a barrier for them. Opioid dependence--we all know those numbers are back up. Those opioid death numbers are back up. Veteran suicide--not one is acceptable. Funding the veterans hotline, funding behavioral health programs, being sure that telehealth can be available to veterans who may not be able to drive all the way to a provider but would be able to quickly contact the person who helps them.

We need to understand the challenges for homeless veterans particularly and post-traumatic stress in other veterans who sometimes don't develop post-traumatic stress until decades after they serve. Often our veterans, not just in leaving the military but in retirement from whatever they did next, don't realize until that moment how much their service has impacted the way they see things and do things and think about things and are concerned about things.

We need to be sure that veterans who have experiences and skills that they take out of the military are able to quickly connect with employers as they transition to civilian life.

Every employer--in fact, at least I have never talked to an employer who doesn't say: We really hire vets. It is a priority where we are to hire vets.

But we passed some legislation a few years ago, the HIRE Vets Act, which gave the Department of Labor the authority to recognize employers that actually do that--that hire vets, that promote vets, that retain vets. Secretary Alex Acosta was Secretary of Labor at the time, and they took a program that--everybody who advised him on this said it would take about 3 years to set this up. They set it up in about 6 months, and we began to recognize employers around the country who truly do meet the standard that all employers say they meet, and some do. Everybody wants to, but it is easier to say you do it than it is to do it.

Seven Missouri businesses just received earlier this month the 2020 HIRE Vets Medallion Program Award. They are C2C in Chesterfield; Connectria in St. Louis; Arnold Defense & Electronics in Arnold, MO; AME Construction in Cottleville; Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, an employer that at one time was the World War I Memorial--the only memorial; On Target Solutions in Belton; and Pod-Grown in Wentzville. They all received the recognition that they really do hire vets and they really do promote vets and they really do meet extraordinary standards that are part of that program. The program aims to highlight companies that do just that.

Third, we have worked to make it easier for military spouses to transfer their licenses and skills from one State to another. We included that in the Defense Authorization Act passed in July. That Defense Authorization Act hasn't passed the Congress yet. It has passed the Senate; it hasn't passed the House yet. I know we have every intention of getting that done this year. But when we do, we put provisions in there that really do allow much easier transfer from one State to another, whether you are a teacher or a nurse or a beautician or a barber or an engineer, architect--whatever you might be transferring and want to transfer as your spouse moves from one assignment to another, it shouldn't take most of the time you are there to finally get qualified to do what you were qualified to do before you got there.

Lowering these license barriers for spouses--I think we ought to also do all we can to lower those barriers for veterans themselves. If you have been a medical technician in the Air Force, it shouldn't be very hard to become a medical technician wherever you decide to move to after the military. If you have been a truckdriver in the Army, it shouldn't be very hard to get a truckdriver's license pretty quickly once you decide this is where you want to go. If you have been an electrician in the Navy, you ought to be able to get your license to be an electrician pretty quickly when you go to where you go after you leave the military.

So these are the kinds of things we can do. Certainly, our deep appreciation for veterans, our deep appreciation for their families, our honoring the flag that they have done so much for--all of that is important. It is an integral part of what we are as a country. But there are things we also do that show veterans that what they did, what they learned counts, it matters, and we are going to recognize that as employers, as coworkers, as Members of Congress.

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