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The Status of Veterans Employment

 

STATEMENT OF

JUSTIN BROWN, LEGISLATIVE ASSOCIATE

NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE SERVICE

VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES

BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS

SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

WITH RESPECT TO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Status of Veterans Employment

WASHINGTON, DC April 15, 2010

MADAM CHAIRWOMAN AND MEMBERS OF THIS COMMITTEE:

On behalf of the 2.1 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and our Auxiliaries, the VFW would like to thank this committee for the opportunity to present its views on this very important topic.

The VFW believes one unemployed veteran is one too many. In these tough economic times, the number of unemployed veterans has skyrocketed to more than one million, with nearly one in three of our youngest veterans being unemployed. The remarkable young men and women who put their lives on the line for our nation deserve better. Congress needs to invest in the future of those who have invested in America by providing them with the training, skills, and the opportunities for a chance at the American dream. For this reason, the VFW calls on Congress to create a veterans’ jobs bill immediately.

Further, we recognize that Congress alone cannot solve this epidemic of unemployment among our nation’s veterans. We urge Congress to encourage America to do her part for these veterans and help put them back to work. As with other important issues, Congress has convened round tables to explore solutions. We need corporate America, union groups, governmental agencies, lawmakers, and both veterans’ groups and unemployed veterans to come together for a roundtable to explore solutions to get America’s veterans in the front of the employment line!

The VFW calls on American businesses to hire Veterans First! The values of American veterans are the same values that drive businesses toward success. Former servicemembers know how to work as a member of a team to creatively solve problems. They are trained to lead and know how to perform in unforgiving situations. They realize the repercussions of their conduct and understand that decisions have an impact on their 2  

organization. Veterans are punctual, dress professionally at all times, lead healthy lifestyles, and are extremely trustworthy and motivated self-starters. Many veterans are very technologically savvy, and are proficient in the use of computers. The battlefield of today requires a ‘grunt’ to do much more than just point and shoot. They are civic minded, willing to go the extra mile, and are committed loyal employees. We ask Congress to help us market the value of American veterans to corporate America.

Our servicemembers are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan in many instances injured, and fighting to find a job, market their skills, and convince employers of the value of their military service. These men and women are the most upstanding, hardworking and patriotic people our country has to offer. Many of these veterans have never even had a job aside from their military service, and therefore, they do not know how to market themselves for open positions. The Department of Defense (DOD) utilizes "military values" and the "prospects of careers" to recruit. The Department of Labor (DOL) can and should do more to sell the value of veterans to corporate America.

According to the Pentagon, 75 percent of today's high school graduates are unsuitable for military recruitment due to aptitude, health or physical conditioning. That leaves a 25-percent pool who are also heavily recruited by industry, colleges and universities. Those who volunteer to serve our nation in uniform are already the cream of the crop. Their time in uniform makes them better—more mature, more decisive, and more team and goal-oriented. Their selfless service to country earns them a place at the front of the line.

We are all too familiar with the marketing campaign launched by each branch of the military to attract talented young Americans to serve their country. The same commercials that attract young people to slay dragons, become one-person armies, and be a force for good should also be used to create ideal candidates for American industry and business.

We ask Congress to authorize and fund a marketing campaign within DOL, selling the value and virtues of hiring America’s veterans. This should, at minimum, include public service announcements, television, print and internet based mediums combined with outreach to local chambers of commerce, unions, and job fairs organized by members of Congress. The young soldier, Marine, and others who serve our country pay the price for our government’s failure to push Veterans First. Some have been through a living hell and now just want an opportunity at the American dream.

Currently, when a servicemember returns home they tend to rely heavily on internet job boards. A young veteran can quickly get discouraged with the plethora of impersonal online resources available. This is not to say that a great deal of these programs lack merit. Many of them do great work to include, Vetjobs; however, not all "veterans" job boards place the best interests of veterans in mind. A veteran would benefit greatly with some direction, assistance, and a person that cares to help them locate meaningful employment.

One thing that is important to remember is that many of these veterans lack the professional and personal networks that benefit many civilians in searching for employment. A servicemember, after separation, may be returning to a home they left 3  

years ago. This lack of networks is what quickly turns a veteran’s job search into an impersonal, often inefficient, and endlessly frustrating experience.

Local DVOPs and LVERs may or may not be affective in assisting these veterans seeking employment; their effectiveness varies from location to location. However, there are a number of private sector programs that are doing a great job of leveraging professional and personal networks to secure jobs for veterans, for example: Wall Street Warfighters, Vets to Vets, American Corporate Partners, Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, and the Wounded Warrior Program. Moreover, there are a number of corporations building a work force of veterans by designing veteran specific initiatives such as: General Electric, Home Depot, CACI, and Union Pacific. To date, there is no central entity or registry to aid and direct veterans to all of these in an easily accessible way.

Veterans Need Jobs Now!

The VFW believes there are a number of turnkey items Congress can include in a comprehensive Veterans Jobs Package. Specifically, the VFW urges Congress to expand and increase the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). The economic stimulus expanded the WOTC to include a tax-break for employers who hire recently separated servicemembers. However, this tax credit affects only those servicemembers who have separated within five years of the hiring date. This excludes at least 765,000 unemployed veterans from non-OEF/OIF eras and some OEF/OIF veterans as well. The current credit provides $2,400 for non-disabled veterans and $4,800 for non-disabled veterans. The VFW urges Congress to double the credit to further incentivize the hiring of veterans.

Furthermore, the WOTC requires a veteran to be unemployed for at least four weeks; this makes little sense. This provision should be changed to provide any unemployed veteran this opportunity immediately after becoming unemployed. If a veteran is unemployed for one day a tax credit is a great incentive for an employer to hire such a veteran and will thereby ease the burden on the veteran and his family, while saving the government up to four weeks in unemployment insurance payments.

Also, the WOTC is ineffective if employers are unaware of its existence. A better job of publicizing this tax credit would go a long way to raising the awareness of ‘veterans first.’ Hiring our newest heroes first, must be our call to American businesses.

The Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program Specialists (DVOPs) and Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVERs) Programs need to be fully Reviewed.

The VFW calls on Congress to mandate that DOL-VETS do a thorough review of the DVOP/LVER program and report its findings to Congress. The issues with the federally funded and state operated DVOP/LVER programs have continued. Inconsistency from state to state, concerns of how these individuals are being used at the local level, concerns of training or the lack thereof, a lack of clear performance measures and accountability, have 4  

all been ongoing issues. Also, developing solutions to improve employment for our veterans requires evaluation of the umbrella one-stop centers under which DVOPs/LVERs operate.

DOL-VETS, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and DOD should conduct a joint annual representative survey of veterans and servicemembers in the Guard and Reserve

The VFW calls on Congress to mandate that DOL-VETS, in conjunction with BLS and DOD, identify causative factors for unemployment by conducting more detailed surveys of unemployed veterans. We know there are roughly 252,000 unemployed OEF/OIF veterans who are more likely to be unemployed than their civilian counterparts. However, we can only speculate to causative factors as we lack quality data that identifies the core issues unemployed veterans are dealing with today. Essentially, we think we know what the problems are, but we lack a foundation to substantiate our suspicions and to inform our actions.

Recently, BLS released an annual supplement that concentrated on veterans. While this supplement provided additional important information, it failed to provide substantive information on the primary factors inhibiting veterans from gaining meaningful employment. Focusing on the causative issues leading to unemployment will help us better address our veterans’ employment needs.

The VETS-100 should be transparent and provide value to those who assist veterans in locating employment

The VETS-100, is an annual filing requirement for federal contractors that receive more than $100,000 in federal contracts per a year. The filing requirement was a result of the Jobs for Veterans Act and was meant to help veterans get additional consideration from private companies that receive contracts from the federal government. The VETS-100 was intended to fulfill some of the requirements of the Jobs for Veterans Act.

The Jobs for Veterans Act stipulates: *2035 "(a)(1) Any contract in the amount of $100,000 or more entered into by any department or agency of the United States for the procurement of personal property and nonpersonal services (including construction) for the United States, shall contain a provision requiring that the party contracting with the United States take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified covered veterans. This section applies to any subcontract in the amount of $100,000 or more entered into by a prime contractor in carrying out any such contract.  

Currently, the VETS-100 serves no meaningful purpose for our government, federal contractors, and employed or unemployed veterans. There are essentially only two required actions for companies who file a VETS-100 form: first, they must file the VETS-100 form on annual basis and second, they must list most available positions with an employment delivery system such as an online employment site (I.E. VetJobs). Unfortunately, these mechanisms lack oversight. 5  

The VFW strongly urges Congress to put measures in place that will ensure federal contractors consider veterans first when hiring new employees.

The VFW believes the VETS-100 report must be made transparent and available to the public in an easily searchable online format. The public deserves to know if companies are abiding by our Nation’s law. Public transparency will likely prove to provide better oversight then DOL-VETs has in the past. Furthermore, DOL-VETs should provide an annual report to Congress on their oversight and investigation inquiries to companies that file a VETS-100 report.  

A central repository must be created. An officially recognized central repository of contractors should be created and updated on a monthly basis with data derived from: the Federal Procurement Data System (www.fpds-ng.com), the Central Contract Registry (www.ccr.gov), the historical contract data from www.usaspending.gov as well as www.defenselink.mil for Pentagon awards. This would help DOL-VETs track and monitor federal contractors to insure compliance of veterans’ affirmative action laws.  

Serious VETS-100 compliance and reform needs action. The present VETS-100 form lacks verification of the three compliance principles of ‘affirmative action in hiring’ under the Jobs For Veterans Act: 1) proof of affirmative action outreach with the local LVER; 2) proof of posting all job openings on a sanctioned job board; and 3) proof that all sub-contractors are notified if they have sub-contracts of $100,000 or more.  

Consequences need to be set for non-compliance. Without comprehensive monitoring and serious sanctions for non-compliance, there is little reason for businesses to comply with the current veterans employment laws.  

Conduct a Veterans’ Job Fair in Every Congressional District

Congressman and Congresswomen can be some of the best advocates for America’s veterans by encouraging their local businesses and donors to hire vets first. Last year, the VFW worked with Congressman Glenn Nye to host a very successful job fair at one of our local VFW posts in Virginia Beach. Nearly 300 veterans and servicemembers showed up for the event and met with a host of local corporate recruiters and human resource officers, the VA, VSO service officers, and local DVOP’s and LVER’s. The event was a great success and one we would hope to see duplicated in every Congressional district in the United States.

Increase Funding for the Helmets to Hardhats Program

The VFW urges Congress to increase grants for the Helmets to Hardhats program. This program has continued to train and place veterans in specialized construction careers. 6  

According to Helmets to Hardhats in 2009, they placed 1,060 veterans into careers. Of these, 49 were 30% or more disabled veterans. As a result of these placements, these veterans will receive more than $20 million worth of training from the respective companies at no cost to the veteran. On average the program has cost $2,830 dollars per a successful placement.

In FY 2009, the program received 3 million dollars. The VFW urges Congress to increase the number of veterans served by increasing their funding. It would also benefit the organization if their appropriation could be directed into a more stable form of funding over the course of multiple years so that they could better manage their recourses year after year. We call on Congress to double their funding through a three year appropriation. At the end of this timeframe the program should be reevaluated for future appropriations. Furthermore, the veterans who utilize this program would greatly benefit from an expansion of Post 9/11 G.I. Bill eligibility to those who are attending apprenticeship programs or trade schools.

Extend Unemployment Insurance for Veterans

Currently, for many workers unemployment insurance is expiring. The VFW is concerned that with the extraordinary unemployment rate of veterans they may be disproportionately affected. The VFW urges unemployment benefits be extended to all eligible veterans. This will ensure that veterans are at least able to feed their families and maintain their place of residence.

Veterans Need Training and Education to be Competitive!

With the advent of the Post 9-11 GI Bill, hundreds of thousands of veterans will and are improving their career trajectory though education. Their success is a direct result of Congress’s decisive action to completely overhaul the GI Bill. This same attention is needed with other veterans training and education programs.

Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Program (VR&E)

The VFW envisions a VR&E for Life program. One that adapts to the changing needs of the employment market and the evolving nature of the individual veteran’s disability. Our nation’s obligation to disabled veterans is unparalleled. Through life long training and education disabled veterans can achieve high levels of independence and self-confidence that can only be earned through their own determination.

Remove the Delimiting Date for VR&E. Currently, the delimiting date for VR&E is set to 12 years after military separation or 12 years following the date of rating for a service-connected disability. Eliminating VR&E’s delimiting date would allow veterans to access it on a needs basis for the entirety of their employable lives. Thus allowing retraining when necessary and lifelong access to VR&E employment services.  

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Increase VR&E’s Educational Stipend to Reflect Chapter 33. Chapter 33 provides a far more equitable living stipend that reflects the real cost of living. VR&E falls dramatically short of aiding veterans with the real costs of living. For this reason, the VFW strongly urges Congress to create cost of living stipend that mirrors the Chapter 33 stipend, which reflects the basic allowance for housing (BAH) E-5 with dependents rate based on zip code.  

Additional Assistance for Veterans with Dependents under VR&E. For many veterans with dependents the VR&E educational track provides insufficient support. Many seriously disabled veterans are unable to pursue education or training options due to limited resources and the immediate need to support children and spouses. The VFW calls on Congress to create a viable VR&E program that will assist a veteran pursing education and training to care for the childcare needs of his or her children while in this program.  

Jump Start VR&E Enrollment. From the date a veteran files for services under VR&E until entrance into a training or education program can take many months. This is because VR&E requires validation of entitlement, skill and interest assessment of the veteran, and then authorization of the training or education program. If a veteran has proven eligibility for VR&E it is exceedingly rare that they are not allowed to enroll in a training or education program. The VFW believes that once a veteran is found eligible for VR&E that entrance into training or education should be implicit. The skill and interest assessment should serve solely to help a veteran better focus their efforts.  

Measure Veterans Long-Term Employment Under VR&E. Currently, VR&E measures the "rehabilitation rate," as the number of veterans discharged for having achieved their goals. A "rehabilitated" veteran is one who has been gainfully employed for a period of 60 days upon completing VR&E. Such a short-term measure, 60 days of continuous employment, limits VR&E’s focus to a short term goal of 60 days of employment.

The VFW urges Congress to redefine the VR&E program’s goals to focus on the long-term. At any point over their career a veteran becomes unemployed this should be tracked. If success is measured by long term employability, VR&E employment placement officials will give more credence to career options vice 60 days of employment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transferability of Occupational Certifications

The VFW is very concerned that our military men and women are getting high-levels of specialized training only to it be ignored by state governments and potential employers. 8  

More needs to be done to DOD’s practices in training our servicemembers. When possible, the VFW urges DOD to utilize similar certifications and standards of training that civilians in their respective state utilize. For example, if someone is being taught to drive a large commercial size military vehicle, why can we not also get that servicemember a CDL certification in the process? The same can be said for a great deal of the training for corpsman, medics, mechanics, and IT occupations who are receiving excellent levels of training that makes them in many cases superior to their civilian counterparts. Due to the lack of state certification employers often insist qualified veterans go through the redundant civilian training programs. More must be done to ensure military occupations receive certifications recognized in the civilian sector; this will help streamline transition for these servicemembers.

DOD should create and distribute to every separating servicemember a list of their equivalent civilian skill sets based on their military occupation and training

The skill sets one acquires in any military occupation are valuable and not always readily apparent to servicemembers separating from the military. Skills-translators have recently become available to servicemembers who are separating. Some private entities are also proposing to do some interesting things to help veterans realize their specific skill sets and to search for jobs based on their military occupation. However, these tools are largely unavailable and servicemembers are often unaware that these services exist or they cannot locate them. Having DOD provide a standard skill translation based on an individual’s training would ensure veterans are aware of their skill sets and know how they translate into the civilian sector. This should also be a requirement of servicemembers that attend TAP, DTAP or DOD’s Yellow Ribbon Program.

Improve the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill

Congress has an opportunity to invest in a proven program that yields lasting results for America. The VFW believes a number of changes need to be made to the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill to address the needs of today’s servicemembers and their families. The original G.I. Bill provided training apprenticeships and vocational training for World War II veterans. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill should also provide veterans the same opportunity to seek careers in skilled trades. The VFW supports the standardization, simplification and restructuring of all education programs, with an eye toward equitable benefits for equitable service, to include:

Remaining Chapter 30 programs (lump sum payments, vocational training, distance learning) should be moved into Chapter 33.

Title 10, Section 1606, the Guard and Reserve Select Reserve GI Bill, needs to reflect the Chapter 33 scale.

Chapter 35 survivors and dependent educational benefits should also be comparable to Chapter 33.

Ultimately, phase out Chapter 30 and simplifying benefits based on Chapter 33.

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Furthermore, the VFW believes that members of the National Guard and Reserve who serve under Title 32 USC, Active Guard Reserve program, should have their service recognized under Chapter 33. By virtue of their status, approximately 45,000 veterans who serve our country under Title 32 do not receive credit toward accruing benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, even though their service was often in support of federal initiatives. All military men and women should be rewarded equally.

The VFW also supports allowing veterans who attend on-line universities to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and therefore, draw an equitable living stipend. Veterans often decide to attend online universities through necessity — family and work obligations, service-connected disability limitations, as well as financial restrictions that prevent them from becoming traditional, on-campus students. Veterans enrolled in online universities today receive no cost of living stipend. The VFW wants this inequity fixed, and supports their receiving a cost of living stipend based on their home zip code.

While this testimony is not all inclusive of the issues facing veterans’ employment, we believe these to be some of the most important. There are more unemployed veterans currently then at anytime in recent history. The recession is likely the number one catalyst, but our Nation’s heroes, particularly our recently separated servicemembers, often have aggravating factors that tend to make quality employment a more difficult challenge. These men and women are our nation’s future and will be known as the next great generation of war veterans to build, sustain, and create a stronger United States. We strongly urge this Committee to do everything in its power to be proactive and invest in these men and women today, for a better tomorrow.

As America’s largest group representing combat veterans, we thank you for allowing the Veterans of Foreign Wars to present its views on this important issue.

Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my testimony and I will be pleased to respond to any questions you or the members of this Committee may have. Thank you.

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