Oral Testimony by Wendy Spencer Before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Apr 24, 2013

“Call to Action: VA Outreach and Community Partnerships”
April 24, 2013

Good morning, Chairman Sanders, Ranking Member Burr, and Members of the Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I would like to first thank each of you for entrusting me with the honor of serving as CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, or CNCS.

We at CNCS share your commitment to serving our veterans and military families. And as the wife, daughter, granddaughter, and stepmother of men who have served our country in four branches of the military, this is also very personal to me and a priority.

Meeting the needs of our veterans and military families is a national challenge. National service – what we do – is an innovative, cost-effective, and proven solution.

Who We Are

We are a grant-making agency built on private-public partnerships. Each year, we generate the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in private and other outside sources. We recruit, mobilize, and manage 80,000 AmeriCorps members, 330,000 Senior Corps participants, and 4.5 million community volunteers.

Through our vast network of grantees and partners, dedicated Americans serve in 70,000 locations across the nation. These are schools, faith- and community-based organizations, and nonprofits you are familiar with like Habitat for Humanity, American Red Cross, United Way, Catholic Charities, and the American Legion Auxiliary. National service members are taking on some our nation's most pressing challenges – including supporting the veteran and military family community.

What We Do For Veterans and Military Families

Our commitment to veterans and their families is deep and it's twofold: We serve them, and we ask them to serve with us. Both strategies have tremendous benefits and results.

National service members serve at hundreds of VA clinics and hospitals, and at veteran service organizations and nonprofits. They are connecting veterans to job opportunities, helping them access their benefits, providing peer counseling, and mentoring military kids. Last year, our programs served more than 1.5 million veterans and military family members in every state.

Veterans also bring unique skills and leadership to solve problems at home. National service gives our heroes a new mission on the homefront, a pathway to opportunity, and a better transition to civilian life. Last year, more than 27,000 veterans served in our programs.

In fact, many of our successful programs are Vets helping fellow Vets.

In Washington state for example, the Governor-appointed Commission for National and Community Service and the state's Department of Veterans Affairs joined together in 2009 to launch an AmeriCorps program called VetCorps.

VetCorps is made up of veterans or military family members. They serve full-time to support veterans enrolled in every public college across the state. They take their fellow veterans by the hand and assist them with every aspect of their transition. Their mission is to never leave a veteran behind and to help them succeed in college and in life.

It's working.

Last year, the 31 AmeriCorps members in VetCorps served 7,100 veterans. Nine out of every ten of these veterans served reported they had a better understanding of how to navigate college and use their VA benefits. And early results show that VetCorps members have substantially boosted the number of veterans on track to graduate from college.

How We Can Do More For Veterans and Military Families

In conclusion, let me tell you about Mike Bremer. Mike is an Iraq war veteran who served in AmeriCorps as a member of an all-veteran fire team in Colorado. Mike said, and these are his words: “When I returned from Iraq with the Army Infantry, I felt like I lost all meaning and purpose in life and I had trouble finding meaningful work. My [AmeriCorps] experience gave me new purpose and a valuable new skillset. I received incredible training and experience.”

I am pleased to share today that Mike now works full-time as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service.

Mike found his next mission. And we know what ours is.

We are poised, ready, committed to work with each of you and the VA to serve our veterans and their families as well as they have served all of us. We hope you will consider national service as an important part of the solution.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to be here today. This concludes my testimony.

[If I may take a moment of privilege, I would like to recognize my Senior Advisor on veterans issues. Koby Langley is an Iraq War veteran who served as a Command Judge Advocate. Thank you, Koby. And thank you, Members.]

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