All five pieces of legislation Cisneros has sponsored in 2019 have related to veterans.
Not many people serve 11 years in the Navy. Even fewer win the lottery. Fewer still serve in Congress.
Gil Cisneros has done all three before turning 50, and while winning $266 million is a buzzier biographical detail, it’s Cisneros’ time as a veteran that has most heavily influenced his work as the congressman for California’s 39th congressional district.
Elected in the 2018 blue wave that gave Democrats control of the House, Rep. Cisneros (D-CA) has kept busy during his first year in Congress, fighting to increase access to healthcare, lower drug costs, and prevent gun violence. But far and away the issue he’s become most known for is veterans’ issues.
Cisneros serves on both the House Committee on Armed Services and the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and all five pieces of legislation Cisneros has sponsored in 2019 have related to veterans. These include efforts to improve outreach to women veterans about health care resources available to them at the VA, a bill to ensure student veterans receive financial assistance during breaks between school terms, and legislation that would increase financial compensation to surviving spouses of veterans who died from ALS.
Cisneros has also co-sponsored dozens of other bills relating to veterans issues, including most recently, the bipartisan Veteran Employment Transition (VET) Act, which would help veterans identify employment opportunities as they transition back to civilian life.
The VET Act would allow data collected through the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program to be shared with qualified veteran service organizations such as the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. These organizations can then use this data to conduct outreach to returning service members and provide information and resources related to employment opportunities
“As a Navy veteran I understand the difficulties our veterans face as they attempt to transition back to civilian life and find work,” Cisneros said in a statement. “Our veterans develop critical technical and leadership skills during the course of their service, and we must do more to help them find opportunities to put those skills to work in our modern economy.”
The bill, which Cisneros introduced alongside Reps. Andy Kim (D-NJ) and Paul Cook (R-CA), has been formally endorsed by the Student Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
“One of the bigger issues with transitioning troops facing employment is the unknown — not knowing what they don’t know, not knowing some of the different hurdles that are involved in gaining employment,” said Pat Murray, Deputy Director of VFW’s National Legislative Service. “This is helping link up the transitioning service members with service organizations and veteran groups that can help guide them towards benefits and programs.”
Helping service members better integrate back into civilian life has long been a priority of the VFW. “It is a pretty key, pivotal point that could lead to a lot of good or potentially bad outcomes,” Murray said.
In Cisneros, the VFW has found an ally.
“Transition is a big thing for him. He’s a veteran himself and he can personally attest to the difficulties of transitioning, so this is something that he and his office have taken a lead on,” said Murray.
According to Murray, Cisneros told the VFW that he wanted to focus on improving the lives of transitioning service members as well as homeless veterans.
“His district is where he saw some of these unfortunate circumstances for veterans,” Murray said. “He wants to continue to make sure that the men and women who serve are taken are of.”
Cisneros’ district covers a part of Orange County, where there are 311 homeless veterans, according to the county’s 2019 point-in-time count, conducted in January.
Cisneros has worked to address the homelessness issue, co-sponsoring legislation such as the Homeless Veteran Families Act, which passed the House 408-0 in October. That bill would provide additional funding to ensure housing agencies are able to provide shelter and services to veterans with dependent children.
“No veteran should be without a home, and it is unacceptable that veteran homelessness continues to persist,” Cisneros said in a press release. “We owe it to our veterans to provide safe, comfortable, and affordable housing solutions so they can live in dignity and comfort. This is especially true for our veterans with children.”
According to Murray, Cisneros doesn’t seem likely to stop his efforts to help veterans anytime soon; he is currently working on launching the Congressional Military Transition Assistance Pathway Caucus along with Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) to further advocate for transitioning veterans.