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Hearing Transcript on Reviewing the Implementation of Major Provisions of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011

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REVIEWING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF MAJOR PROVISIONS OF
THE VOW TO HIRE HEROES ACT OF 2011



 HEARING

BEFORE  THE

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH CONGRESS

SECOND SESSION


MAY 31, 2012


SERIAL No. 112-64


Printed for the use of the Committee on Veterans'
Affairs

 

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COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS


JEFF MILLER, Florida, Chairman

 

CLIFF STEARNS, Florida

DOUG LAMBORN, Colorado

GUS M. BILIRAKIS, Florida

DAVID P. ROE, Tennessee

MARLIN A. STUTZMAN, Indiana

BILL FLORES, Texas

BILL JOHNSON, Ohio

JEFF DENHAM, California

JON RUNYAN, New Jersey

DAN BENISHEK, Michigan

ANN MARIE BUERKLE, New York

TIM HUELSKAMP, Kansas

MARK E. AMODEI, Nevada

ROBERT L. TURNER, New York

BOB FILNER, California, Ranking

CORRINE BROWN, Florida

SILVESTRE REYES, Texas

MICHAEL H. MICHAUD, Maine

LINDA T. SÁNCHEZ, California

BRUCE L. BRALEY, Iowa

JERRY MCNERNEY, California

JOE DONNELLY, Indiana

TIMOTHY J. WALZ, Minnesota

JOHN BARROW, Georgia

RUSS CARNAHAN, Missouri

 

 

 

Helen W. Tolar,
Staff Director and Chief Counsel


Pursuant to clause 2(e)(4) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House,
public hearing records of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs are also
published in electronic form. The printed hearing record remains
the official version.
Because electronic submissions are used
to prepare both printed and electronic versions of the hearing record,
the process of converting between various electronic formats may
introduce unintentional errors or omissions. Such occurrences are
inherent in the current publication process and should diminish as the
process is further refined.

 

       

C O N T E N T S

May 31, 2012


Reviewing the Implementation of Major Provisions of the VOW to Hire Heroes
Act of 2011

OPENING STATEMENTS

Chairman Jeff Miller

    Prepared statement of Chairman Miller

Hon. Corrine Brown, Democratic Member

    Prepared statement of Ms. Brown


WITNESSES

The Honorable Allison Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits, U.S. Department
of Veterans Affairs

    Prepared statement of Ms. Hickey

Accompanied by:

Mr. Curtis L. Coy, Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity, Veterans
Benefits Administration U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Ismael Ortiz, Jr., Acting Assistant Secretary, Veterans’ Employment and
Training Service, U.S. Department of Labor

    Prepared statement of Mr. Ortiz, Jr.

Accompanied by:

Ms. Kathy Tran, Director, Division of Policy, Legislation, and Regulation,
Employment and Training Administration (ETA), U.S. Department of Labor

 


SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD

Mark Andrekovich, Chief of Human Capital & President, Tax Credit and Employer
Services

 


 


REVIEWING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF MAJOR PROVISIONS OF THE VOW
TO HIRE HEROES ACT OF 2011


Thursday, May 31, 2012

U. S. House of Representatives,

Committee on Veterans' Affairs,

Washington, DC.

The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:23 a.m., in Room 334, Cannon House
Office Building, Hon. Jeff Miller

[chairman
of the committee] presiding.

     Present:  Representatives
Miller, Stearns, Lamborn,  

Bilirakis,
Stutzman, Runyan, Benishek, Brown, Michaud,

McNerney,
Walz, and Barrow.

 

OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN JEFF MILLER

     The CHAIRMAN.  Good morning, everybody.  Thank you very much for being with us
this morning. 

     We
just spent last weekend and in particular Monday honoring our Nation's
defenders that are no longer with us.  Now it is time for us to renew our focus
on those who still need our help in securing a good job.

     And
I welcome this morning Under Secretary Hickey and Deputy Assistant Secretary
Ortiz to the committee.  I am eager to hear how the Department of Veterans Affairs
and the Department of Labor are progressing in meeting the goals of the VOW to
Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

     The
VOW Act is a bipartisan and bicameral effort to reduce unemployment among
veterans.  And while every provision in the law is important, I believe that
the centerpiece of the act is what is being called the Veterans Retraining
Assistance Program or VRAP. 

     Of
the approximately $1.7 billion cost for the bill, which was paid for, $1.6
billion was spent to pay for a year of GI Bill benefits for nearly 100,000
unemployed veterans between the ages of 35 and 60.  The balance funded Chairman
Murray's vocational rehabilitation provision and the tax credit suggested by
President Obama.

     The
VOW Act is an excellent example of what we can do when we all work together. 
And I thank the Members of both sides of the aisle for their support and
continuing interest in the success of this particular piece of legislation.

     Today
we are going to hear from senior oficials tasked with implementing all the
provisions of the law.  I have asked them to concentrate primarily on VRAP and
I am looking forward to hearing how they are setting the stage for a successful
launch on 1 July.

     While
I am impressed by the level of effort being made by program level staff at both
departments, I am concerned that not enough is being done by either cabinet
secretaries or our President to promote this benefit.

     Getting
the message out about this opportunity is critically important to putting
unemployed veterans on a path to a job in a high-demand field.  Clearly,
aggressive promotion of the program by the nearly 3,000 one-stop employment centers are the
key to filling the 99,000 training slots that have been authorized by the VOW
Act.

     I
want to give you just one example of why I am concerned that
despite VA's significant outreach efforts for which I commend them, problems
are still arising.

     Staff
was contacted by a community-based organization in Georgia about what appears
to be a lack of effort to get the program started.  Shortly after passage of
the VOW Act, the organization contacted the Augusta one-stop employment center
to ask about how to enroll unemployed vets in the program. 

     They
asked again in mid March and the DVOPs and the LVERs were still not aware of
the program.  Two weeks later, Augusta told them the Georgia Department of
Labor was not aware of VRAP. 

     In
early April, both the Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Labor stated
they were waiting for policy from D.C.  In late April, there still appeared to
be little understanding of how the program would work.

     It
appears that finally on the 11th of May, a mass email from VA was
released detailing how the program would be implemented only four days later on
May 15th. 

     Obviously
if that is typical of the level of awareness at the one-stop centers, I think
we all agree we have got big problems with the potential launch coming up
shortly.

     Secretary
Ortiz, unless your federal staff here in D.C. and in the states are contacting
the DVOP and the LVERs and the one-stop center, there is no way that you are
going to be able to know whether the word is getting out and how the one-stop
centers intend to fill the training slots.

     I
truly hope that this is an isolated case, but I am not convinced that it is.

     Having
said that, I am pleased to see that 11,600 applications have been received so
far, meaning that we are well on our way to filling all of the 45,000 slots
paid for in the VOW Act for the remainder of this fiscal year.

     I
also encourage each of the Members to take a strong effort in their districts
to get the word out about VRAP so that we see the unemployment rate among our
veterans in their prime earning years will continue to decrease.

     I
want to share a story about one of my constituents, Mr. Todd C. Buchanan.  He
is a 35-year-old veteran of the United States Navy.  He learned about the VRAP
Program through an advertisement that the one-stop ran in their local
newspaper.  He was excited to learn of this second chance for veterans as his
GI Bill benefits had already expired. 

     In
response to the newspaper ad, Mr. Buchanan scheduled an appointment to review
his options with an LVER.  They cross-walked the VRAP high-demand occupations
with the Okaloosa and Walden County boasted the fastest growing occupation list
that they had and considered the veteran's aptitude and his interests.

     His
application was submitted on line and he will register at the Choice Technical
Training Center for a welding certificate upon VA determining that he is
eligible.

     And
I submit to our committee this morning that Mr. Buchanan is the type of veteran
that we are trying to reach out to.  Hopefully he will be determined eligible
and put on the path to a new career.

     This
bill passed with broad bipartisan and bicameral support.  And we owe it to our
veterans as well as our taxpayers to ensure that it is implemented properly.

     Ms.
Brown, I apologize for beginning the hearing late this morning.  I would yield
to you for any opening remarks that you have.

    [The statement of Jeff Miller appears in the Appendix.]

OPENING STATEMENT OF MS. CORRINE BROWN,
DEMOCRATIC MEMBER

     Ms. BROWN.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And I want to thank you for holding this
hearing today on the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program.

     I
welcome this opportunity to hear what preparations have been done so far by the
Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor to implement the
Veterans Retraining Assistance Program.

     I
hope that both agencies are working together because the starting date is July
1, 2012.  It is right around the corner.  We need to be proactive in marketing
this program and identifying pitfalls that could derail this program.

     The
retraining program is limited to 45,000 participants from July 1, 2012 through
September the 30th, 2012 and 54,000 participants from October 1, 2012 through
March 31st, 2014.

     Since
money for retraining programs is very difficult to find these days, I hope that
both agencies understand how important it is that we place a veteran in every
single slot.

     This
program will run for a short period and we need to make sure that we get most
out of the limited time we have now.

     The
Bureau of Labor Statistics report that in 2011, about 5.9 million veterans have
served on active duty from the Gulf War One to the Korean War.  Therefore, I
expect Labor and VA to find more than enough veterans to fill all of the slots
that will be available.  It would be tragic if we do not help veterans take
advantage of these opportunities. 

     I
know that employment from VA and Labor is here today and briefed staff.  I appreciate
them being here again to answer more questions.

     Since
the retraining program started accepting applications, I would like to know if
there are any problems.  The key thing I am looking for for today from both
agencies is honesty on where the program stands today and assurances that all
problems are being resolved. 

     Do
not wait until the last minute to tell us that there are problems that would
derail this program.  We need to know in a timely fashion if there are any
problems with the program roll-out and if there is anything we can do to help. 

     The
Bureau of Labor Statistics report that the overall unemployment rate for
veterans is 8.3 percent for 2011.  The 12 months that veterans are now eligible
should be a springboard to better employment in a very difficult job market.

     The
Department of Labor has listed 210 high-demand occupations for veteran
retraining assistance programs.  I would like to ask that the Department of
Labor keep an open mind if opportunities arise to increase the number of
high-demand occupations.  In this very poor economy, we should allow veterans
to pursue all worthwhile occupations that lead to gainful employment.

     I
thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I am looking forward to today's hearing from the
witnesses.

    [The statement of Corrine Brown appears in the Appendix.]

     The CHAIRMAN.  Thank you very much, Ms. Brown, and I appreciate your steadfast
support of the veteran community, your help as we work across the aisle to move
this legislation as all the Members of this committee have worked together to
make sure that this legislation made it into law and now it is our job to make
sure that it is implemented in the fashion that we intended it to be.

     I
would ask, as customary, that all Members would waive their opening
statements.  They will be without objection entered into the record at the
appropriate place.  Without objection, so ordered.

     And
our first and only panel this morning is already seated at
the table.  We have the Honorable Allison Hickey who is the Under Secretary for
Benefits at VA.  And she is accompanied by Mr. Curtis Coy, the Deputy Under
Secretary for Economic Opportunity at VA.

     Next
we have Mr. Ismael Ortiz, better known as Junior Ortiz, who is the Deputy
Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training at the Department of
Labor.  He is accompanied by Ms. Kathy Tran who is the Director of the Division
of Policy, Legislation and Regulation of the Unemployment and Training
Administration at the Department of Labor.

     As
always, again, your complete statement will be entered into the record.  And I
would like to start this morning with Under Secretary Hickey.

     You
are recognized for five minutes.

 STATEMENTS
OF THE HONORABLE ALLISON HICKEY, UNDER SECRETARY FOR BENEFITS, U.S. DEPARTMENT
OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, ACCOMPANIED BY CURTIS L. COY, DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY FOR
ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY, VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF
VETERANS AFFAIRS; ISMAEL ORTIZ, JR., ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY, VETERANS'
EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, ACCOMPANIED BY KATHY
TRAN, DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF POLICY, LEGISLATION AND REGULATION, EMPLOYMENT AND
TRAINING ADMINISTRATION (ETA) U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

  STATEMENT
OF ALLISON HICKEY

     Ms. HICKEY.  Thank you, Chairman Miller.

     Good
morning, Chairman Miller, Congresswoman Brown, Members of the committee.  I
appreciate the opportunity to appear before this committee to discuss the
actions taken by the Department of Veterans Afairs in collaboration with the
Department of Labor to implement the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program or
VRAP of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

     Let
me begin by first thanking Members of this committee for your continued support
to provide training and education programs to help our Nation's veterans gain
meaningful employment.

     I
appreciate the opportunity to briefly discuss the steps we have taken to
implement VRAP, the outreach activities accomplished to date, and updates
related to VA's VR&E Program in this act.

     Under
implementation, since November 21st, 2011 when Congress enacted and
President Obama signed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, VA and DoL have been
actively engaged in implementation actions.

     Implementation
of the VRAP Program first required development of the application process.  VA
and the Department of Labor worked collaboratively to develop this process and
are executing today under this plan.

     In
collaboration with DoL, VA developed an on-line website specifically focused on
VRAP.  This site can be accessed through numerous connections including the
ebenefits, vetsuccess.gov, VA for Vets, the GI Bill website, and DoL's my next
move website, veteran service organization websites, and industry partner
websites.

     Yesterday
VA delivered VRAP tool kits to the leadership of this committee and the Senate
Veterans' Afairs Committee as well as all 535 Members of Congress.  We
respectfully request as appropriate congressional support to post this
information including the website address on your websites as well.

     In
April, VA not only stood up the VRAP website but also trained education claims
personnel to process VRAP applications in anticipation of the enrollment.  We
began accepting VRAP applications on May 15th, 2012, 17 days earlier
than our original deadline of tomorrow. 

     As
of this morning, VA received 12,200 applications.  We began processing these
claims on May 21st.  In less than seven working days, we have
processed over 1,400 of these VRAP claims from start to end.

     To
ensure this program's success, VA and DoL continue to collaborate and
participate in biweekly meetings and leverage a common share point site with
daily data sharing.

     VA
staff meet daily to ensure we stay on track for the July 1st, 2012
implementation date.

     From
an outreach pespective, with the support of DoL, VA developed a comprehensive
outreach program to successfully launch and implement VRAP.  The central
component of this is the VOW website.  To date, the website has received nearly
50,000 visitors. 

     Because
a centralized system to identify eligible veterans does not exist today, VA and
DoL are working with our numerous stakeholders to reach eligible veterans.

     For
example, VA contacted individuals and groups with the potential to reach over
four million veterans including vetsuccess.gov users, VA for Vet users, over
200 government and nonprofit organizations including our Nation's VSOs, 75
newspapers in communities with high veteran populations, unemployed
populations. 

     All
our military time newspapers have carried it for free, numerous industry
partners.  VA has contacted several national sports teams in areas of high
veteran unemployment to ask for their assistance.

     Yesterday
the Florida Marlins agreed to post a PSA on their Jumbotron during their Monday
night home games and we are working with others.

     We
also contacted local government officials in the hundred counties with the
highest veterans’ unemployment including all of state directors for veterans'
affairs, county service officers, and DoL one-stop shops.

     The
assistant secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs sent information to this
Nation's 1.5 million members of the national guard and reserve.  We are also
leveraging social media to reach the target population. 

     We
know from recent surveys of all veterans that 73 percent want to meet us on
line.  Therefore, VA has posted messages on VA’s Facebook pages, Twitter
accounts, and many linked in pages of groups.

     Additionally,
on May 15th, the White House joining forces team sent out a blog
notice that reached almost 1.4 million individuals. 

     We
also continue to participate in local job fairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
and are getting that word out face to face with our veterans looking for jobs. 
We will do the same thing in the big Detroit hiring event here at the end of
June.

     VA
has either implemented or is on target to timely implement all of the VRE
provisions of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act including the provision which
qualifies certain veterans for an additional 12 months of vocational
rehabilitation services.  We began accepting those referrals in early February
and have already made some applications effective tomorrow.

     In
closing, the benefits we provide under the VOW to Heroes Act are yet another
way we are all taking care of our veterans and their families and survivors.

     Mr.
Chairman, this concludes my remarks and I am looking forward to answering any
of the questions you and the Members of this committee have.

     [The
statement of Allison Hickey appears in the Appendix.]

     The CHAIRMAN.  Thank you very much, Ms. HICKEY.

     Mr.
Ortiz, you are recognized for five minutes.

 STATEMENT
OF ISMAEL ORTIZ

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Good morning, Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Brown, and
distinguished Members of the committee.

     Thank
you for the invitation to participate in today's hearing of Reviewing the
Implementation of Major Provisions of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

     As
you know, my name is Junior Ortiz and I am the Veterans' Employment and
Training Service, Department of Labor.  I am accompanied today by Ms. Kathy
Tran from the Employment and Training Administration.

     At
DoL, our mission is to provide veterans, transitioning servicemembers, and
their families with the critical resources to assist and prepare them to obtain
meaningful careers, maximize their employment opportunities, and protect their
employment rights.

     As
a marine corps veteran, I understand the importance of the service we provide. 
I have three sons on active duty and one that just left service.  Between them,
they have ten tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  So I understand the sacrifice made
by the servicemembers and their families as well as the challenges they face
when they return home.

     Secretary
Solis and I believe that we have an obligation to serve these men and women as
well as they have served us.  That is why DoL is fully committed to serving
transitioning servicemembers, veterans, and their families with our current
programs as well the initiatives provided by the VOW Act.

     During
the last program year alone, DoL served 1.7 million veterans in various
employment and training programs.  The VOW Act has enhanced many of these
programs and as discussed in my written testimony, DoL has been working hard to
implement these provisions.

     Section
211 of the VOW Act established the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program. 
VRAP entitles eligible veterans to retraining assistance for up to 12 months
when they pursue a qualified training program.  I am pleased to report that we
are moving forward to fully implement VRAP.

     Early
on, DoL established the necessary memorandum of agreements with the VA to
execute this program and identified over 200 high-demand occupations in which
veterans can be trained.

     Additionally,
DoL has enhanced my next move for veterans website to display information on
VRAP.

     After
working closely with the VA to create an on-line application process, we began
accepting applications on May 15th of this year.

     DoL
and VA has been engaged in intensive outreach efforts to inform eligible
veterans, the public workforce system, VSOs, and other stakeholders about VRAP.

     As
part of the outreach efforts, DoL has issued guidance to state workforce assistance
employees, creating and disseminated fact sheets, press releases, blog entries,
email alerts and flyers to encourage others to spread the word.

     We
also hosted a webinar with the VA to inform and train the public workforce
system on the VRAP Program.  We will continue to work diligently to reach out
to the stakeholders to ensure eligible veterans have the opportunity to take
advantage of this important program.

     In
addition to VRAP, DoL is working to administer other VOW Act provisions such as
Section 233 which allows individuals with service-connected disabilities who
have exhausted UI benefits to seek additional assistance beginning tomorrow,
June 1st. 

     While
the VA is primarily responsible for administering this program, DoL has a key
role in helping the VA to develop the eligibility determination process.

     DoL
is working with other agencies to implement provisions of Sections 221 which
requires mandatory participation of the transitioning servicemembers in DoL
employment workshop.

     We
are also in the process of changing over all the contract facilitator staff for
the workshop as required by Section 223.  Until the process is complete, DVOP
and LVERs will be trained to deliver the new curriculum.

     As
I testified before the subcommittee last year, we are on line and on track to
meet the VOW Act's deadline of November 21st, 2013.

     Moreover,
DoL is working to implement many other VOW Act provisions to include new
performance measures in the annual report, conducting demonstration projects
and study on credentialing, clarifying priority of service requirements, and
extending important tax credits proposed by the President.

     Finally,
DoL has repurposed approximately $5.4 million of our 2011 project year budget
in order to implement the provisions of the VOW Act.

     Distinguished
Members of this committee, it is our responsibility to take care of our
veterans and their families.  That is why the Department of Labor in
collaboration with its sister agencies is committed to ensuring that successful
implementation of the VOW Act happens.

     Thank
you again for the opportunity to testify today.  I look forward to your
questions.

     [The
statement of Ismael Ortiz, Jr. appears in the Appendix.]

     The CHAIRMAN.  I was just asking staff a question.  You talked about repurposing
five plus million dollars to assist.

     Was
it not funded properly in the legislation?  Where is the money that the
legislation appropriated?  I am just trying to figure out why would you need to
re-purpose additional money.

     MS. TRAN.  There were several provisions that did not have--that appropriated
funds were not included in.  So, for example, the Section 222 on the study of
equivalencies is one of example. 

     And
so the re-purposed funds are from a demo project, a demonstration project, and
so we were able to re-purpose that and dedicate that to various aspects of
implementing VOW including providing grants to states to update their
performance reporting systems, to capture the priority of service data
elements, as well as data elements related to the WOTC provision.

     It
also includes the study for the equivalencies between military and civilian
occupations and a couple of other related activities.

     The CHAIRMAN.  I mean, we paid for all of that.  It was paid for, but your staff behind you is shaking their head.  And I appreciate you being there.

     What
states got the $5.4 million if that is what you did?  You said you sent money
out to the states to help them restudy or what was done with it again?

     MS. TRAN.  Oh, sure.  There were several activities that are included under the
$5.4 million.  One of them is to send grants to our states to update their
performance--

     The CHAIRMAN.  And those states were?

     MS. TRAN.  It would be all 50 states plus the territories that received WIA and
Wagner-Peyser formula funds.

     The CHAIRMAN.  So $5 million over 50 states?

     MS. TRAN.  No.  So the $5.4 million covers that piece.  It covers the study on
military equivalencies.  It covers updating our own federal reporting systems
to account for the new reporting, the service reporting and some of the WOTC
provisions. 

     It
will also cover technical assistance to the workforce system on the new
performance reporting requirements.  I think I mentioned the study on
equivalencies.  And there may be others that I would have to get you the
details on. 

     The CHAIRMAN.  Secretary Ortiz, how many one-stop centers have you surveyed or
the department surveyed now to find out their level of awareness of VRAP and
when and how did you contact these centers?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Sir, on a daily basis, we contact different centers and make sure that
the information is actually going down there, what ETA does as far as the
Employment and Training Administration.

     Now,
the specific items that you spoke about with the Augusta one, sir, the guidance
that we put out was on the specific issue as far as a program letter went out
on May 7th.  The issue training and notice that we had went out on
May 8th.  On May 9th, the webinar went to all the
workforce systems.  And on May 16th, a joint press release was
issued by Secretary Shinseki and by Secretary Solis.

     So
when you were discussing specifics on the Augusta one, sir, the one that you
mentioned that had not gotten the stuff in April, that is probably a true
statement.  And the reason why is because it did not come out until almost mid
May.

     However,
I can tell you that both the Augusta one and the South Carolina ones are both
fully aware of what the VRAP Program is about.  And what we are doing is
initiating communications across the board to make sure that all the one-stops,
all 2,800 of our one-stops throughout the Nation are aware of what the VRAP is
and how it affects our veterans.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Let me aslo take a moment and compliment you on the webinar.  I
understand that it was done very well and hopefully it will have been well
received by all of those who partook.

     How
are the slots divided up?  Is it first come, first serve?  How does
that work?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Chairman Miller, the slots are basically first come, first serve,
but they are aligned against a set of criteria, a select set of criteria that
were provided in the law.  And so we worked through those. 

     There
is a break between the first wave and the second wave, though there is no break
for us between our process during that period of time.  We would just simply
add the 45,000 and one veteran who applies for the benefits in this first wave,
we will have to have a conversation with them that tells them they will not be
able to start their training until 1 October when the second wave starts.

     The CHAIRMAN.  What happens if a veteran enters the program and then drops out? 
Is that counted a used slot or if there is still funding left, can that be
reallocated to another veteran?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Chairman Miller, we have been instructed that it works similarly to
the other Montgomery GI Bill and other GI bills and when they veteran drops,
then that authority drops in the 99,000 that are available.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Drops in or--

     Ms. HICKEY.  I apologize, Chairman.  Let me be a little more clear about that. 
If the veteran applies and then does not fulfill the whole year's worth of
training and let's say they stop midpoint, then that is one of the 99,000 and
we cannot recycle the rest of that benefit on to a different veteran.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Is that right?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Sir, I think that is the provision of the law that has been laid out
for us and so that is the way we are working it.

     The CHAIRMAN.  That provision needs to be corrected, doesn't it?  Would you
recommend that that slot be reallocated?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Chairman Miller, from my perspective, from the advocacy that we have
in VA for all veterans, we would certainly like to see every dollar that you
all have put towards this be used to train veterans.  So if you are inclined to
do something diferent in the legislation, we would be happy to consider that.

     The CHAIRMAN.  That is a great political answer.  I appreciate that.

     Ms.
Brown.

     Ms. BROWN.  Thank you.

     First
of all, the good news is I just had my job fair which is my 20th
year and had about 12,000 people to attend.  And at least 150 companies, but I
am very pleased that the VA was there and this program was also there.  And I
want to thank you up front for that.

     Would
you kind of walk me through how the program is to work because while Mr. Miller
figured it out, I want to make sure my veterans know about it? 

     And
I am interested in how we are working with other stakeholders like community
colleges. 

     I
mean, who is actually going to provide these various training programs and how
are we partnering or contracting out which republicans like to hear?  I like
partnering.  How is the program going to work?

     Let
me just say when American get a cold, African Americans got pneumonia.  So even
if the statistics unemployment is one for everyone else, it is a lot worse for
African Americans.

     So
can someone answer that for me, please?

     Ms. HICKEY.  I am happy to address you, Congresswoman Brown, on that subject.  We
pretty much have no light between us on the process.  So I will start there and
then I will defer to Secretary Ortiz to fill in any other parts of the DoL
equities that I might miss.

     So
let me first say that it starts with our communication to the veteran and our
outreach to the veteran on the availability of this one-year benefit which is a
superb benefit for our veterans to be able to exercise this training and
education for both degree programs, non-degree programs, but leading to is the
correct words in the language an associate's degree or a certification in a
non-degree field.

     It
does not mean that they actually have to accomplish it in that one-year period
of time, but it needs to lead to that.  So first it does start with the veteran
themselves after we have provided that outreach, they through the process of a
self-attestment.

     And
I will ask Secretary Ortiz to talk more about that.  They will come to us
through the website and then we are using existing capability that we have long
used for Montgomery GI Bill.  So we have just refined it and updated it for
this capability.

     And
they on line do what we call a bone app, on-line application and it pushes it
immediately to DoL who does the verification on their criteria for unemployment
and the like.  And then that pushes it directly into us for us to make the
assessments on veteran good standing, yes, they are a veteran, assessment of
whether they have any more GI Bill or other kinds of employment opportunities
left.

     Once
that is all verified, then we go ahead and issue them what we call a
certificate of eligibility saying, yes, you are entitled and working with that
veteran, we then have them actually make the application. 

     They
go to school.  They attest every month in school that they attended school and
we pay that veteran directly and then they pay the bills for the school.

     Ms. BROWN.  Thank you.

     One
of the problems that we had, the program that I was very excited about, the
latest GI Bill update, was that it took a time before they could get their
reimbursements because the school had to verify that they were in school.  And so it was a real negative story on the news.  And I was very
disappointed because I thought it was such a great, exciting program. 

     But
if the school did not verify that they were in school, then they would get in
trouble with us, the VA, because, you know, the audit would say, well, you have
given them money and the student is not in school.

     So
I hope we work through these kinds of issues as we start up.

     Ms. HICKEY.  Thank you, Congresswoman Brown. 

     We
are and, in fact, we are--this provision is the old Montgomery GI Bill
provision which is we pay them once that veteran attests and then they take
care of their bills with the school.

     And
I will tell you I believe that we have testified in front of you that we are
looking at that model again under GI Bill just to see if there is any way to
adjust some of that discomfort level for our veterans in GI Bill.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  And, Congresswoman, just to add, after the individual finishes their
training, then they are sent back to DoL within the 30 days after finishing. 
And what we do is whether they complete or terminate, they come back to DoL. 
So that way, we help them through our one-stop shops find employment. 

     That
is why it works really well, because we give them the initial okay, yes, they
have met all the criteria.  VA gives them the schooling part and then they come
back to us and we help them with a job, ma’am.

     Ms. BROWN.  Might I add that many of the schools and the programs, particularly
if they work as co-ops and other kinds of programs, can assist them in the job
placement.  So it could be--I mean, the veteran does not have to be coming back to you. 
It could be us working from the beginning as we train, placement, work study so
that they will actually come in contact with that employer as we are going
through the process.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Well, Congresswoman, we want them to come back to us so that way, we
have an accountability, so that we know exactly whether our LVERs are out there
reaching out to exactly who you are talking to, ma'am, to be able to kind of
work hand in hand to help place these individuals into proper places.

     Ms. HICKEY.  And, Congresswoman Brown, I would say actually your message is a
very big message that our secretary, Secretary Shinseki, has been out and
amongst all campuses and campus leaders, both degree and non-degree pograms
saying help us help them in not just completing the degree successfully and
making the adjustment successfully but also in connecting to those employment
opportunities.

     Ms. BROWN.  Thank you very much.

     I
yield back.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Thank you very much.

     I
would note that our colleage, Mr. Lamborn, has joined us. 

     Mr.
Lamborn, for the record, I would like to acknowledge from this committee's
standpoint our sympathies on the loss of your father a couple of days ago.

     Mr. LAMBORN.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     And
he was, it is apropos for this committee, a World War II veteran, age 93 years
of age, part of the greatest generation, although he just said he was doing his
duty. 

     And
he fought in 11 campaigns in north Africa, Sicily, and Italy in World War II. 
He was an armor which means you put on the bombs and bullets on the attack
aircraft. 

     So
he wanted to be a pilot.  They would not let him physically.  He did not
physically qualify.  And that is good because in the early days of the war, I
think there was in some places a 90 percent mortality rate among pilots. 

     So
thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Yes, sir.

     Mr.
Runyan.

     Mr. RUNYAN.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     I
have a question for both Secretary Hickey and Mr. Ortiz on dealing with the
VSOs and how helpful and what part they have really played in helping promote
this because I know actually even last year when you talked about another
program that Congressman Holt and I had promoted dealing with suicide of
veterans, the lack of knowledge of programs like that, and this is another
one.   

     But
the VSOs and their ability to have direct contact with their members, how
helpful have they been and how directly have you personally been working with
them?

     Let’s
start with you, Secretary Hickey.

     Ms. HICKEY.  Thank you, Congressman Runyan, for your question. 

     And
I will tell you quite frankly I do not go anywhere without my veteran service
organizations.  They are our hands and feet everywhere, on the ground, forward
in the fight, working as you have well described directly with our veterans. 
They are critical to our success in taking care of our veterans on all fronts
including and especially the employment front.

     They
have been very helpful.  We have been working very closely with them in the
outreach area.  They have been helping us to get the word out to their
constituencies on VRAP and other provisions of VOW to Hire Heroes Act.  And I
will say they are sitting right next to me, although behind me today, I do not
go anywhere without them.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  And I cannot add any more than that, sir, honestly because, I mean,
our VSOs, they are our force multipliers.  And honestly they are the ones that
get the message out where we cannot. 

     And
there are times when we may not be able to reach the veteran directly. 
However, they can and they have the opportunity and the ability to be able to
reach and, you know, reach out and give them the guidance and the things that
they need in order to make things happen.

     Mr. RUNYAN.  Yeah.  Because I am going through some of the statistical analysis,
whether it is your mass emails or Facebook and that, and you see the numbers a
lot of times are lacking.  And I think even one of them, I think there was only
about a 23 percent open rate of the emails you sent out.  And I know a lot of
that probably has to do with lack of current information, I think, a lot of
times.

     Ms. HICKEY.  So, Congressman Runyan, this is a great question because it has to
do even broader with our whole transformation effort, how do we deal with
veterans who come from different eras and different cohorts who some are
clearly on line and clearly asking us to be there.

     And
I will tell you our data from interviewing the population for the VRAP
initiative, the 35 to 60-year-olds, they are on line.  When you move beyond
that 60-year-old time is when you may hit some that are not, though my mother
would scold me because she is very good on her Mac and her Apple computers.  I
am making a broad-brush assessment of that.

     I
will tell you I think the other thing that is important to note is we did not
take a one-channel avenue on this outreach.  We have a face-to-face piece of
it.  We have an in paper print piece of it.  We have a voice over piece of it. 
We are talking to newspapers and the like, all to reach a group of veterans
that may not be on line as well and might still fall into this category.

     And
I will defer also to Secretary Ortiz for any other thoughts he might have on
this.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  As Secretary Hickey has already said, I mean, the important piece of
that, sir, is you try to hit--you move the message and put the message out
where people can hear it. 

     And,
you know, although some of us might be a little, how do you say, hiccup with
technology, me included, the idea is to be able to go out there and get all the
people as much as possible the information that they can.

     We
are not just on the VA side but on DoL’s side, we are using every method that we
can to get the information out there.  It is an important project and we need
to get it going.

     Mr. RUNYAN.  No.  And I think most of us sitting up here understand that
specifically being a campaign year.  It is much of the same stuff.

     Secretary
Hickey, on dealing with appeals to the VRAP Program, how are they adjudicated
and is that becoming a growing problem?

     Ms. HICKEY.  So, Congressman Runyan, I think we would have two different sides of
that because he handles a certain part of the process for unemployment and
things of that nature and for also the career fields that he has on his list.

     So
I will handle if they are--if we do not have them certified under the
conditions we must validate which is they are a veteran, they are a veteran in
good standing, meaning, you know, no--everything above a dishonorable
discharge.

     Mr. RUNYAN.  Uh-huh.

     Ms. HICKEY.  And we will validate whether or not they have any benefits
remaining.  There is an appeal process that is described in the letter that we
send out to them if, in fact, they are denied.  And I have the details of the
letter with me.  If you would like me to go into specifications on that, I can
certainly do that.

     But
there is a defined process for them to do that and it tells them and instructs them
on the letter if they believe that we have something done in error.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  And on our side, sir, I mean, we are the primary piece that brings
the eligibility part.  If the individual is not eligible, the good thing about
the fact that they are coming through a one-stop is if they are not eligible
for this, there are other programs that we might be able to direct them.

     Ms. HICKEY.  And if I might add also, Congressman Runyan, there is an interesting
thing that we have learned in this few days that we have been in this process
even with 12,000 applicants and that is oftentimes our denial is because we
have learned that they still have remaining education benefits with us.

     And
so we do not just tell them they are denied for VRAP.  We say you are denied
because we have found you have additional benefits and then we do not just make
them apply for those additional benefits.  We send in the same breath a
subsequent letter that gives them their certificate of eligibility for those
benefits that they already have on the table.

     Mr. RUNYAN.  I liked in the same breath because a lot of times, the lag is a huge
part in dealing specifically with our benefits.

     And
with that, Chairman, I yield back.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Thank you very much.

     Mr.
Michaud.

     Mr. MICHAUD.  Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, for having this very important
hearing.

     And
I have a couple of questions.  The first is I have heard from several small
towns and cities and county government the fact that they are looking for
firefighters as well as police officers.  And when you look at the unemployed
in the military, particularly for the military police, they would like to hire
veterans.

     Under
the VOW Act, what are you doing to help encourage the municipal towns to hire
veterans for police officers and what is available to them?  That is my first
question.

     My
second question is, having done several manufacturing tours throughout my
district over the past year, one of the things I hear a lot from businesses is
they would like to hire more employees, but they found that they are not
trained. 

     When
you look at the extension partnership program, the MOST Program, I do not know
if you are familiar with it, it stands for mobile outreach skill training, in
Maine, it is MEP, they go into these businesses and actually are willing to
train.  And they guarantee a job after the training or else they do not get
paid for the training.

     Are
you working with extension partnership programs throughout the country in that
regard since they do guarantee jobs and do you have the resources needed?

     So
I do not know who wants to, both of you, or who wants to answer both those
questions.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Congressman, first of all, I want to hit your first question first,
sir.

     Firefighters
and police officers are on a high-demand list.  So as far as VRAP is concerned,
this is an opportunity for them to be able to go in there if they meet the
eligibility requirements, sir.

     On
the second part of that, sir, if they do not, we also have local veterans’
employment representatives in each one of the one-stop centers, our LVERs, who
go outreach and make sure and talk to employers in different places to help
them find the skilled persons that they are looking for.

     So
our one-stops are a very important piece of getting that outreach part and also
to get to with the cities, the local communities.  That is the biggest piece
that we are talking about, working with the communities as much as possible to
get that information to us so that way, we can find the proper individuals to
help them fill their needs.

     Mr. MICHAUD.  And what type of benefit will a local community receive since they
are tax exempt?  Is there any specific--is it the training piece or is there
any other benefit under the VOW Act that will be beneficial for the
communities?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Actually, sir, you know what?  I am not really sure on the specifics
on that, sir, but I will be more than happy to find out, sir.

     Mr. MICHAUD.  Okay.

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman Michaud, let me just tell you how we have generally
worked with the education programs in relation to this, especially the
non-degree programs we started thanks to this committee and the Senate
Veterans’ Affairs Committee support from the 1st of October of last
year where we are allowed to use GI Bill benefits towards non-degree efforts.

     We
still require your state approving agency to certify the training.  And if you
have one in every one of your states, I would highly recommend that the
counties contact the state approving agency, submit their training program to
them, let them go through their normal process, certify it, and then I can
cover them under the GI Bill or VRAP for either one.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  As far as the MOST, sir, the MOST Program, I am going to turn it over
to Ms. Kathy Tran since she works specifically on those issues.

     Mr. MICHAUD.  Okay.

     MS. TRAN.  Sure.  Regarding our partnership, we have a federal partnership with
the U.S. Department of Commerce and the MEP Program and we have been
encouraging local partnerships in communities and regions across the country to
partner between the workforce system and MEPs in order to support employment in
the manufacturing arena.

     And
we actually issued a training guidance letter or notice, I cannot remember
which one, we can get back to you on that, recently to encourage those
partnerships.  And that letter included examples of existing successful
partnerships at various different levels, whether it be working with MEPs on
lay-up provision strategies, working with the MEP to help fulfill, you know,
job openings and training.

     But
also to, just to add to the question earlier, one-stop career centers are
available to help local municipalities in their hiring.  So they can work to
help do recruitment, to do job screening, to post job openings.  And so that is
a good relationship between the one-stop career centers and those
municipalities.

     And
many local webs, you know, have good representation and good leadership from
their city or county councils and such.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  And, sir, this is not specifically with veterans.  This is for all.

     Mr. MICHAUD.  Okay.  Great.  My last question actually, if you could submit to
the committee--Secretary Hickey, you mentioned that you have contacted over a
hundred counties with the highest veterans’ unemployment.  Could you supply to
the committee a list of the counties and the states they are from that you have
contacted for the record?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman Michaud, we will do that.

     Mr. MICHAUD.  Okay.  Thank you.

     Thank
you, Mr. Chairman.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Thank you very much.

     Dr.
Benishek.

     Mr. BENISHEK.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     Thanks
for coming before the committee today.

     How
many people got rejected or turned down from the people that applied?  Was it
20 percent or was it 2,000 rejections or something that I saw?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman Benishek, so this has only been open for a couple weeks
now.

     Mr. BENISHEK.  Right.

     Ms. HICKEY.  But even in those few weeks, we have had 12,000 applicants made and
of those, we have had 23 percent denied.  But of that 23 percent, the bulk of
them were denied because they already have existing benefits that they just
were not aware they had.

     Mr. BENISHEK.  Right.  That was--

     Ms. HICKEY.  So there is a few left and in that few that are left, some of them
are because we even determined they are not veterans.

     Mr. BENISHEK.  Okay.

     Ms. HICKEY.  Some of them are because DoL has confirmed that they do not meet the
unemployment aspect.  And some of them are because they hit the 48-month
maximum limit as provided in the law which says you can only exercise a full 48
months worth of benefits under any employment or any education program with VA.

     Mr. BENISHEK.  All right.  I was just looking at this application form, the
on-line application form.  So I just want to make sure that I am understanding.

     So
in my district, there is a lot of need for like welders and machinists, people
like that for manufacturing.  And, you know, the employers, you know, we want
to hire these people, but they do not have the--we do not have anybody with
that training.

     And
I am looking.  I am a potential welder.  I want to take a welding course.  I
know there is a welding job available.  I did not see like welding on the list,
you know what I mean, or machinist.  I mean, I see like production occupation
which I imagine that would probably go under there.

     But
it just seems to me that in this application, I am just not clear.  It does not
seem to be that easy if you already have a job in mind to write it in there.  I
am just wondering how you go through the process.

     I
mean, does somebody have a job in mind typically and then they are going for a
training program for that specific job or are they just winging it?  I mean, I
just wanted to see how this actually works in real life.  You know what I mean?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Dr. Benishek, specifically for the VRAP, sir, we go through a
specific criteria.  That is the first part.  If an individual is trying to find
a training program and they--for example, if they do not meet the VRAP piece,
but they are trying to find individual programs along those lines, sir, the
one-stop shops are the ones where we can help to look at specific items and see
what schooling or what training opportunities are available for that individual.

     However,
if you are talking specifically on the VRAP side of the house, sir, we are
going through the basic.  If they do not meet--if they meet all the
qualifications and they go over to the VA, in other words, they are eligible on
our side, they go over to VA, there may be a training program over there.

     Ms. HICKEY.  So, Congressman Benishek, I will tell you if they have 9/11 GI Bill
benefits, I can certainly pay for them, their training to be welders under the
GI Bill effective 1 October last year.  In fact, any non-degree program, any
certification, whether you want to, you know, drive heavy equipment, build
highways, be a paramedic, be an HVAC which, in fact, one of the case examples
we have permission from the veteran to mention is a Manassas veteran who fits
this age group, a little on the older part of that band, and wanted to be an
HVAC person, and so we have together processed his claim.  He is eligible and
we will pay him the VRAP fees for him to go to HVAC training.

     MS. TRAN.  I would like to also add, I think, to your question about is there an
opportunity for career exploration and there is.  The my next move for veterans
website is an excellent resource and tool for veterans themselves.  It helps
them identify career opportunities.  They can input their MOS and it will show
them some civilian equivalencies and then they could do some career
exploration.

     And
what we have done to that site is update it with the VRAP information.  So we
have done a crosswalk between all the various occupations on the my next move
website with the VRAP high-demand list so that you can identify those
occupations that are also covered under the VRAP high-demand list for
training.  And so you can do a lot of career exploration that way.

     Mr. BENISHEK.  So if you are eligible and you go to a state unemployment office,
they are going to get you into--say you do not have access to a computer or you
are not--you got an email list--

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Yes, sir.

     Mr. BENISHEK.  --and you go to a state unemployment office, they are going to be
able to steer you in this direction?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Yes, sir.  If an individual does not have--one of the requirements to
have an email, at the one-stop, we will actually get them an email to get all
the information that they need back to the--

     Mr. BENISHEK.  No, that does not really work if you do not have a computer.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Well--

     Mr. BENISHEK.  I mean, because, you know, in the rural area that I come from,
giving the guy an email address is not going to help him communicate.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  You are right, sir.

     But
go ahead, Kathy.

     MS. TRAN.  So if you do not have a computer to identify where your local one-stop
career center is, we actually have a toll-free help line that you can call that
will help you over the phone identify where your local one-stop is and that you
can then go there and that you would be able to access the internet from that
site.

     Ms. HICKEY.  I would also offer, though, the first choice we would like is for
them to access the one-stops because there are more of them.  We also have made
provisions in our Veterans Benefit Administration regional offices that are in
all the different states and our public contact folks in those sites when they
walk in and they deal with us, we will help them, assist them in that respect. 

     And
also our medical centers are aware of this provision as well and are helping us
to get the word out there as well and all of our clinics and CBOCs as well.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Congressman, the bottom line is we are working as hard as we can to
make sure that we get the information and help those young men and women that
need this, get the information and fill out the application and to not have any
kind of barriers to make this happen.

     Mr. BENISHEK.  Well, I hear you say that, but, I mean, like I have not seen
anything myself in the news or, you know, on TV, you know, about this program. 
You know, if I had not been here on this committee, I frankly would not have
known about it.  You know what I mean? 

     I
mean, I did not see anything.  Maybe it was directed, you know, personally to
that person and so I would not have access to that since I am not a veteran in
that category.  But, you know, I have not seen any national advertising or I
have not seen anything in my local paper.  You know what I mean? 

     So
I am a little bit concerned about people that do not have access to internet or
may not be plugged into the VA system.  You know what I mean?  So I am a little
concerned about that.

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman, you are going to see more information about this in the
month of June than you would ever expect to see because this is a critical
component of the VA Detroit hiring event and in alignment with also the small
business event is being nationally held in Detroit this year. 

     So
I think every paper and every community in Michigan will be very, very aware of
what we are doing in terms of employment opportunities and the tools like VRAP
to help do that as well.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  I would like to add to that, Congressman, is we are actually, as the
secretary said, coming this June, we are also working with the local papers
directly, especially the urban areas because of the fact we know that sometimes
that information does not get out to on the general basis.  So we are, in fact,
doing that as far as DoL in conjunction with some of our partners also.

     Mr. BENISHEK.  All right.  I think my time is up.  Thank you.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Mr. McNerney.

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     According
to my understanding, the division of responsibility is basically the VA will
take care of the training and the DoL would take care of outreach.  Is that
more or less correct?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  No, sir.

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman McNerney, I will tell you largely that DoL will handle
the face-to-face interaction with the veteran that walks into the one-stop. 
And then they will handle the verification of employment issues.

     The
outreach has been largely led by VA in cooperation and support by DoL helping
us get to the labor sides of their communities and their stakeholders as well. 
But that is more a relationship there.  We handle once the education claim,
processing that claim, making sure that payment is made to that veteran on that
side.

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  Well, that is one of my concerns about the VA is that I do not
think the VA is in general doing enough to outreach not just for this program
but there seems to be a reluctance to go to the media, to advertise on TV, to
put up billboards.  I would like to see the VA do more of that in general,
especially in this case.

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman, I appreciate your comments and your questions.  I will
say that we have been to the media quite extensively, the print media and have
gotten it out that way quite extensively. 

     I
do not know about billboards except that we have a lot of veterans in many,
many, many communities across the Nation and it would be difficult to figure
out the expense associated with a billboard in a single community.  We would start
to, I think, create some discussion around funding that would be a little bit
untenable. 

     We
have been on line.  I have literally done as has the secretary has done on
camera interviews about veteran employment issues and about the opportunities
for education to help those employment opportunities.  And I know that
Secretary Ortiz’s secretary has done that as well.

     So
I will let him comment further on that, but we have reached out quite
extensively through lots of media, different environments including 75
newspapers nationwide for those communities where the unemployment rate for
veterans is the highest.  We are not stopping.

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  So what kind of a budget does the VA have for media outreach?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Well, Congressman McNerney, we are actually trying to be good
stewards here, so we are leveraging our current network operation.  We are
leveraging the good will of communities and newspapers and others to get this
word out as well including all the military alumni groups.  All the military
times are carrying these for free.  Many of the local newspaper are carrying
these ads for free.

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  So, in other words, you do not have a budget specifically for
outreach?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman McNerney, I have not found the need at this point in
time, especially when in very short order we have over 12,000 applicants and
they are growing every single day.  Yesterday it was 11,000.  As the chairman
well noted today it was 12.  If, in fact, we do require, I will be happy to
come share that need with you.

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  Okay.  Mr. Ortiz, could you briefly describe what your one-stop
centers look like?  They are not mobile centers?  They are permanent centers,
right?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Yes, sir.  Yes, sir.  Depending on the city, we could have anywhere
between--oh, excuse me--depending on the state, we can have anywhere between
five, ten, twenty one-stop career centers, sir.

     Our
one-stop centers, what they are is a place where an individual can go, come in
and get--

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  Any individual?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Any individual, sir, any individual.  However, veterans have priority
of service.  In other words, they have head of the line privileges. 

     So
they are able to come in and get what they need as far as helping to build a
resume, finding out exactly what educational opportunities they need in order
to find a job, what jobs are available in certain places.  At times, all you
need is somebody to be able to kind of point you in the right direction to get
that. 

     So
the one-stop centers are more of a place where if you are looking for a job, we
have the opportunity to give you the information that you need to help you find
that job, sir, and some of the training also, sir.

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  Would either one of you sort of describe what you think a
successful outcome of this program would be?  How do you describe success in
sort of general terms?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  I tell you, sir, my measure of success is that every single person
that comes through this program ends up with a job or a career.  That is my
measurement to success.

     An
individual coming in through our program as far as eligibility, getting
everything that they need, going over to VA, getting their training and
everything else, and then after that coming back to us and actually getting a
job, that is how I measure success.

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  Are we going to have report statistics or report on the outcomes--

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Yes, sir.

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  --of this program?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Yes, sir, we will.  And as a matter of fact, I will bring it over to
Kathy on this one.  But the bottom line, sir, is we are capturing all the
information on who is going through the program, have successfully finished the
program, and we are going to have measurements, for example, enter employment
rate, enter retention rate, and so on so that we can find out specifically,
one, the program is effective; two, the program works; and, three, we got
individuals jobs.

     Mr. MCNERNEY.  Mr. Chairman, I will yield back.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Mr. Bilirakis.

     Mr. BILIRAKIS.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  Thank you for this good legislation and
thank you for holding this hearing.

     I
want to ask specifically is there going to be any paid television
advertisement?  And also with regard to the PSAs, I have not seen any PSAs
lately.

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman Bilirakis, we are working with different folks right now
for PSAs.  In fact, part of the public service announcement to reach out to
frankly some of the national athletic teams is part of that strategy.  But at
this point in time, we have not posted a PSA at this point in time.

     Mr. BILIRAKIS.  Do you anticipate any paid television advertisements?

     Ms. HICKEY.  We will work for those kinds of public service announcements that do
not require funding.

     Mr. BILIRAKIS.  Okay.  Next question.  With regard to the--I have heard from my
constituents--with regard to the unemployed veteran who may have exhausted his
or her savings and is having a hard time getting back on their feet, they have
concerns about possible up front costs, tuition cost, fees, what have you, a
textbook cost.

     Have
you looked into maybe tuition deferral until the veteran receives the
payments? 

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman Bilirakis, we have not.  We have currently a requirement
in our program that they must attest at the end of each month that they have
attended the training and then we pay in arrears essentially.

     Mr. BILIRAKIS.  Okay.  I would like to follow-up with you on that issue.

     Thank
you very much, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back the balance of my time.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Mr. Walz.

     Mr.
WALZ.  Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     And
thank all of you for being here.  Your commitment to our veterans is absolutely
unwavering.  We understand that and are very appreciative of it.

     And
also thank you for displaying collaboration amongst agencies.  I know it is a
tough issue.  It is one we always come back to of seamless transition.  It is
great to see a flow chart that includes several agencies of trying to work this
out.  And I know that is always a challenge.  We are trying to get this
efficiency as a part of this.

     General
Hickey, you mentioned that all of the VRAP applicants are going to be put
through a screening process. 

     How
long do you think that will take?  Do you know how long that will take?

     Ms. HICKEY.  So at this point in time when the veteran self-attests on the
Department of Labor side, we pick that up directly.  There is actually no
manual transactions they must do.  It comes directly to us and we have been
turning those around very quick, in fact, 1,400 of them in seven days.

     But
I will tell you when the numbers start increasing.  You know, the numbers are
smaller now.  It is a little easier to do all those.  We expect to manage to
the same criteria that we do all of our education benefit programs. 

     And
so today for an original claim of any kind of nature, it varies between 24 and
30 days.  And for a supplemental claim, meaning I am already in school, I
already know who you are, I just need next month’s payment, it happens very
quickly in less than ten.

     Mr. WALZ.  Those are targets you set so that we--

     Ms. HICKEY.  Yes.

     Mr. WALZ.  --end up that we are going to manage this so that we do not have a
backlog in VRAP claims then that we end up dealing with?  You think we can stay
on that?  It will be pretty much a turnover as they enter the system?

     Ms. HICKEY.  We do, Congressman.

     Mr. WALZ.  That is great.

     Also,
General, you mentioned, and it was really good to hear and I know Mr. Runyan
mentioned that, about in the same breath you talked to him about you still have
benefits available with that.

     And
I know this is fairly common amongst guardsmen or whatever, I myself did that,
I used nine months at a time, you are off for a while, you use nine months more
of your time or whatever. 

     What
happens with someone who has got benefits left, does not qualify, but it is too
small to actually get them a degree? 

     That
was a problem we had about not directing folks, about having some problems
where bits and starts of education, but they do not have a certificate, they do
not have a degree.

     How
are we dealing with those?

     Ms. HICKEY.  So thank you, Congressman Walz, for your question.

     I
will say that first it is important to note that this program does not extend
indefinitely.  It ends on March 31st, 2014.  So it would have to be
in the provisions of that time frame--

     Mr. WALZ.  Yeah.

     Ms. HICKEY.  --for us to be able to do anything.  But we do send in the letter
when we send it back to say, you know, we denied you for VRAP, but that is
because you have GI Bill benefits left.

     Mr. WALZ.  Right.

     Ms. HICKEY.  We do say if you run out of those ben--here is what you have left. 
If you run out of those benefits, you are still able to then after you have
exhausted--

     Mr. WALZ.  Is there the potential here that we ask someone to use two months of
benefits and not really have any desire to get much out of that and then come
to you?

     I
mean, this does happen.  Am I wrong about this, that there are people that fall
into that hole?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Congressman Walz, there is always the likelihood that that could
happen.  In that case, we would encourage them to immediately apply--

     Mr. WALZ.  Right.

     Ms. HICKEY.  --for VRAP benefits--

     Mr. WALZ.  That is great.

     Ms. HICKEY.  --in that process.

     Mr. WALZ.  Okay.  But it is aware of that.  You are there.  There is
communication with them.  And I am not sure what more we can do actually at
that point without changing a lot of the details to transfer that over.  That
is just a catch 22.  I appreciate that.

     Mr.
Ortiz, this one is for you.  You targeted 200 occupations veterans can receive
further training in.

     Do
you happen to know how many of those require federal or state certification?

     I
ask this because of this Vet Skills Bill that we are trying to promote of
transferring, whether it is a, you know, CDL license or whether it is physician
assistants to work at the Mayo Clinic.

     Do
we have any idea on those numbers?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  You know what, sir?  I was just looking at the list itself and I am
not aware of those right now, sir.  I will be more than happy to get back to
you.

     Mr. WALZ.  That would be great because I think then what we are trying to match
up, and I think DoD has been very open to this, of trying to figure out what
those certifications are, make sure that training is available, make sure we
target these folks.  And it is something we see.

     And
I guess it is blessed in different parts of the country.  In Rochester,
Minnesota, we have got a 3.9 percent unemployment rate.  The problem we have
there is 275 manufacturing jobs and they do not have qualified applicants
because they need certain certifications, whether they would be.

     I
think that is a perfect place for us to target our vets, make them top of the
list, get them in.  And that is what we are trying to do with that bill if it
meshes with what you are doing.

     Ms. HICKEY.  And, Congressman Walz, that is exactly the target of the 1 October
provision of the GI Bill last year.

     Mr. WALZ.  Right.

     Ms. HICKEY.  So we can pay for those certifications and not just one.  If you
happen to be in a tristate area, you need to do business across the line in
Wisconsin or somewhere else with different licensing requirements in those
states, we can pay for those as well.

     Mr. WALZ.  That is great.

     Well,
again, I thank you all for the way you have taken this on, the aggressive lean
forward on this.  I am excited about it.  I think you, you know, you understand
that this is really important stuff and there is a lot of eyes watching you. 

     And
you are hearing my colleagues say we want to see this on TV.  I told Mr. Barrow
he wants to see it on a NASCAR so that his folks see it.  Those are the things
somehow that we--that it gets out there.

     But
I appreciate.  I think the spirit you have tackled this is exactly what we
wanted to see.  So I thank you.

     And
I yield back.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Mr. Stutzman.

     Mr. STUTZMAN.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     And
thank you to you all for being here today and for your work as well with our
veterans.

     I
would like to just kind of follow-up a little bit on Mr. McNerney and also Mr.
Bilirakis’ questioning regarding the funding that you are going to be using for
outreach.

     Mr.
McNerney asked how much money do you have budgeted for this.  There is not a
line item if I understand that correctly.

     But
do you have an idea of how much money you are going to be using for outreach,
you know, collectively including, you know, if you are going to be using TV, if
you are going to be using radio, PSAs, social media, all of the numerous types
of communication that you have available to you?  And then if you could get
some sort of an idea and then how do you plan on tracking the success of those?

     Ms. HICKEY.  So thank you, Congressman Stutzman, for your question.

     We
have not exhausted the ability for us to ask of this Nation and its businesses
and others to, including the press and the media, to carry these as public
service announcements with no cost to the government on behalf of our veterans
who have served in harm’s way and need and require us to take care of them now
that they are coming home and getting back to work.

     When
I have fully exhausted that, then I will consider budgetary needs.  But as a
good steward of the resources that you all give us every single day, I just am
disinclined to go there first.

     I
will say that we have funded the staff required to process the claims and they
are teed up in also our fiscal year 2013 budget submission as well.  So we have
done that and that is where--you know, we are working with that and have 166
people that are processing claims or FTE that are processing claims, these
claims as well.

     Mr. STUTZMAN.  So if you are not using dollars that are budgeted and you are
maximizing your efforts outside of tax dollars, how are you going to determine
success?  How do you know that you are reaching those veterans that need to
hear what is available?

     Ms. HICKEY.  We can manage certainly and we do have metrics on the click rates
for all the different websites.  We have responses, opening of responses and
forward feeding.    But I will tell you our strategy has been a little
different than simply getting to the actual veteran in question because we know
some of our veterans are not on line and are not to some of those avenues, are
not even seeing us in VA for anything at this point in time.

     So
we have found as we address the emails not to just are you a veteran, do you
know you have these potential benefits, but we are saying do you know a
veteran, do you know someone who has served this Nation that deserves this
opportunity for this benefit, and can you please transmit this information to
them.

     We
have actually seen in this original 12,000 we have had apply in the last couple
weeks that some of them are actually getting the benefit of another veteran
passing along that information to them.  We are leveraging that network.

     We
are also leveraging our veteran service organizations who are well connected to
our veteran communities across the Nation as well as DoD.  In fact, the Defense
Finance Accounting Service has agreed to send contact information to every
single veteran they pay for anything including retirees and civilians, the
information on VRAP as well.

     We
know by that count how many different touch points we have made.

     Mr. STUTZMAN.  Because it sounds a little bit like you are taking more of a bird
shot approach.  You are just blasting it out there and hoping that it hits the
targets that we are hoping to get the message to.

     Could
you talk a little bit about, you mentioned using professional sports as a tool
to get the message out as well.  Have you found success with that because there
is an effort to prohibit the military from recruiting through NASCAR and other
professional sporting events?  Do you find that successful?

     Ms. HICKEY.  So, Congressman Stutzman, we are talking about a public service
announcement, not a recruiting effort.

     Mr. STUTZMAN.  Right.  Correct.  But I am--

     Ms. HICKEY.  In fact, we have the Florida Marlins, one of the chairman’s state
professional teams, has agreed to every Monday night at their home games to run
a public service announcement on their trons to get to people who love that
sports, veterans who love that sport and let them know about it.

     We
are also in conversations with others, about five or six other major national
sporting activities as well.

     Mr. STUTZMAN.  And you are finding value with that?

     Ms. HICKEY.  We will see as soon as we execute.  They have not started yet.  We
are hoping they start soon and we will provide them all the materials they need
to do that soon.

     But
I will say I have not seen a lack of response to date.  We have been doors open
less than, how many days since the 15th of May, less than two
weeks.  And in that two weeks, literally 12,000 people, almost 1,000 people a
day applying for this benefit.

     Mr. STUTZMAN.  Okay.

     Ms. HICKEY.  We will watch it closely to see if there is any trends to trickle up
and, if so, we will re-engage with our DoL partners and others to recycle and make
sure that we are getting the word out even further.

     Mr. STUTZMAN.  So you think there is a chance of hitting the 45,000 application
limit?

     Ms. HICKEY.  If history for the last two weeks proves itself, I do, sir.

     Mr. STUTZMAN.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Secretary Hickey, do you think the VA and DoL are responsible for
all of the 12,000 applicants or whatever the number is, 12, 13 thousand
applicants?  I mean, you speak as though you think your plan is what brings them
all in.  Is it VA and DoL that--

     Ms. HICKEY.  Chairman Miller, this is an all hands on deck and we have reached
out to many, many stakeholders as I sort of listed out.  And I will prevent you
from having to listen to me list them again now.

     But
it is many of our partners including Members of this committee who are helping
us to get that word out. 

     But,
no, I do not believe that we are doing this by ourselves nor is it our--but I
do believe we have the responsibility to you.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Excuse me.  You say you reached out to Members of Congress and
that is what caused us to reach out to get the word out?

     Ms. HICKEY.  No, sir, not at all.  No, Chairman Miller, not at all.

     The CHAIRMAN.  If I could draw your attention to the budget hearing back on
February 15th, a question after the hearing was submitted for
response.  Basically the question was regarding the VOW to Hire Heroes Act
Program.

     Does
the outreach plan include funding for a national advertising program?

     This
was the response.  "Although the communication plan is currently under review by
VA and DoL, we anticipate that the final plan will include a national
advertising budget."

     Do
you have it?

     Ms. HICKEY.  Chairman Miller, I have not needed to have a budget yet for all the
great advertising that has been done and all the help of all of our
stakeholders including you--

     The CHAIRMAN.  I do not know that I have ever heard an individual come into a
committee and say they did not need a budget.  And you have said twice now
before this committee that you do not need a budget. 

     VA
is still evaluating how much of the fiscal year 2013 outreach budget will
support outreach efforts associated with the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2013. 

     You
had Members from both sides of the aisle ask you about the budget and you say
you do not need one.

     Mr.
Barrow.

     Mr. BARROW.  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

     I
have only to add my thanks to the witnesses for your service and what you are
all doing.  And I want to add my support to what you all are doing.

     With
that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Any other questions?

     Mr.
Michaud.

     Mr. MICHAUD.  I just have one follow-up question. 

     You
mentioned you have the one-stop shops.  Of course, a state like Maine and other
states are very rural so it is very difficult for veterans to even get there to
get the services that they need.

     And
I guess what I would like to know is what are you doing to really access the
veterans that live in real rural areas to make sure that they know about these
particular programs? 

     And
a follow-up on my previous question as it relates to the MOST Program and
programs are approved with an associate’s or certificate is how do you
determine a certificate because I know actually when I first started working
after I graduated from high school, I took an on-the-job training and I got my,
you know, certificate at the mill that I worked at, so how do you determine who
really qualifies for a certificate to meet the needs that are out there?

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Well, sir, what we do is we go through all of our specific records on
finding the individuals unemployed, if they have utilized their unemployment
insurance, and any kind of eligibility on the Department of Labor side of the
house, sir.  That is how we determine their eligibility.

     As
far as giving us information like DD214 that shows they are a veteran, that
kind of thing is what we do on this end, and we say, okay, or I got to tell you
if the individual comes in and does not have their DD214, basically they sign
off and say, yes, I was a veteran and we take them for their word.  We check
all the other information based on their Social Security number and everything
else. 

     Once
we find out that they meet the criteria on that, we pass it over to the VA side
of the house.  VA has the capability of being able to find out if they are a
veteran because of DD214s and things of that nature, however.

     So
the eligibility piece, we do a fairly good job of doing that.  And both of our
agencies work really hard to make sure that happens, not only an eligibility
that they may already have or they may not have known that they had but also in
making sure that that gets taken care of.

     So
that takes care of that part, sir.  But to answer the congressman’s question as
far as getting the information out there to rural areas, especially those
areas, I would think, you know, we are in contact specifically with the
workforce agencies and all the agencies within the states themselves.

     As
an example, sir, this is the kind of language that we did for the Maine DoL and
the VETS agency.  We basically turned around telling them, you know, first of
all, the Maine Department of Labor veterans’ team extends our thanks in
military service and so on.

     So
we are working hand in hand not only with the one-stop shops but also the
specific state workforce agencies and the communities themselves, sir.

     The
fact of the matter is although you may not be able to get to a big one-stop, if
you will, there are community efforts within each one of the city and state
councils that are able to find that information and pass it on.

     The
third thing and probably one of the most important things that I am able to
have is the fact that I have LVERs out there, local veterans employment
representatives, that actually reach out to employers and to veterans and let
them know what is going on, to advise them of the different opportunities
available.  Plus I also have a state director in each one of the states that
helps it.

     Go
ahead, Kathy.

     MS. TRAN.  I would also just like to clarify the eligibility questions that the
Department of Labor is responsible for for VRAP. 

     I
think when Junior was mentioning, you know, whether or not you are a vet and if
you have a DD214, that is if you come into one-stops for other services.  But
as part of VRAP, we determine, you know, we determine eligibility around age
for 35 to 60 if you are unemployed and if you have participated in a federal
training or education program in the last 180 days.

     The
other resource I do want to mention to folks who are in rural areas and cannot
physically access a one-stop, again, is that toll-free help line that I
mentioned earlier.  It is an 800 toll-free number.  Anybody can call and it
will just--the operator who answers will help identify various programs,
whether they are ours or other related social services that you might be eligible
for or interested in including VRAP.  So that is part of our script, that we
are sharing that information that way as well. 

     Mr. MICHAUD.  Well, on the first part of that question was more to who is
qualified not as an individual but who is qualified to provide the training for
those particular programs because that is the concern that I have is who is
qualified for the training, because when you talk to a lot of businesses, and I
will get back to the extension partnership program, they guarantee that they
will have a job once they finish the training program? 

     So
my concern is whether it is VA or DoL saying, well, you know, your program,
your certificate is no good, you know, we need something else, but, yet, they
might actually be able to provide a job for a veteran.  So that is my big
concern is the eligibility qualification for the training portion of it.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  Sir, I got to tell you I think my understanding is, sir, that once
the individual goes into, especially VRAP, they go into a program, that the
program that they are going into, and correct me if I am wrong, Secretary, is
the program they go into is usually a program that is certified by the VA that
they are--that when they come out, we will give them what they need or at least
the tools they need to be able to find a job.

     Ma’am.

     Ms. HICKEY.  So, Congressman, the actual provision is that the state approving
agencies certify that the training is good and competent.  The schools are all
doing, and whether they are degree schools or non-degree schools, are all doing
appropriate things to resource the veterans’ training environment.

     So
if they are approved by a state approving agency, then we pay the requirement.

     Mr. ORTIZ.  And along those same lines, sir, I mean, and my team, I happen to
have a great team behind me which helps me out, is the law requires that the
training provided by a community college or a technical college is what is
needed in order to--that is the certification that they need in order to find a
job, sir.

     The CHAIRMAN.  Thank you, Mr. Michaud.

     Thank
you very much to both of you for being here today.

     Again,
any of the comments that and questions that we made are just to help in trying
to get the program running better.  I think this committee feels that a good
job has been done to date. 

     There
are always going to be, as Mr. Ortiz says, some hiccups somewhere down the
road, but let’s make sure that we do the very best that we can for those
unemployed veterans that are out there and helping them access this training.

     I
do want to say before we adjourn, take a moment that on June 1st,
which is Friday, I guess that is tomorrow, is the 25th
anniversary of the Montgomery GI Bill named after the former chairman of this
committee, Sonny G.V. Montgomery.  The bill was the premier education program
for a generation of veterans and it continues to serve us today as we use it
for the framework of the VRAP.

     Therefore,
I think it is important that we commemorate its use by millions of veterans
around this country.  So I want to ask and invite each of the committee
Members, if they will, to join me in issuing a bipartisan press release on this
about the program and its author.  And if you would provide a short statement
to Amy Mitchell, our communications director, we will include in the release.

     And
with that, I ask unanimous consent that all Members would have five legislative
days to revise and extend their remarks and add any extraneous materials to
this hearing.  And hearing no objection, so ordered.

     And
I want to thank everybody for attending today, and we are adjourned.

     [Whereupon,
at 11:49 a.m., the committee was adjourned.]


APPENDIX


Prepared statement of Chairman Jeff Miller

Good morning to everyone.

We just spent last weekend honoring the nation’s defenders
who are no longer with us.  Now it is
time for us to focus on those who still need our help in securing a good job,
and I welcome Under Secretary Hickey and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ortiz
today.  I am eager to hear how the
Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor are progressing in
meeting the goals of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

The VOW Act is a bipartisan, bicameral effort to reduce
unemployment among veterans.  While every
provision in the law is important, I believe the centerpiece of the Act is what
is being called the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program or VRAP (VEE-
RAP).  Of the approximately one point
seven billion cost for the bill, which was paid for, one point six billion was
spent to allocate up to a year of GI Bill benefits for nearly one hundred
thousand unemployed veterans between the ages of thirty five and sixty.  The balance funded Chairman Murray’s
vocational rehabilitation provision and the tax credit suggested by the
President.

The VOW Act is an excellent example of what we can do when
we work together, and I thank the Members on both sides of the aisle for their
support and continuing interest in the Act’s success.

Today, we are going to hear from Senior Officials tasked
with implementing all the provisions of the law. I have asked them to
concentrate primarily on VRAP.  I am
looking forward to hearing how they are setting the stage for a successful
launch on July 1. 

While I am impressed by the level of effort being made by
program level-staff at both departments, I am concerned that not enough is
being done by either cabinet secretaries, or the President himself, to promote
this benefit.

Getting the message out about this opportunity is critically
important to putting unemployed veterans on a path to a job in a high-demand
field.

Clearly, aggressive promotion by the nearly three thousand
One Stop employment centers are the key to filling the ninety nine thousand
training slots authorized by the VOW Act. 
Let me give you just one example of why I am concerned that despite VA’s
significant outreach efforts, for which I commend them, problems are still
arising.  Staff was contacted by a
community-based organization in Georgia about what appears to be a lack of
effort to get the program started.

Shortly after passage of the VOW Act, the organization
contacted the Augusta One Stop Employment Center about how to enroll unemployed
vets in the program.  They asked again in
mid-March and the DVOPS and LVERs were still not aware of the program.  Two weeks later, Augusta told them the
Georgia Department of Labor was not aware of VRAP.  In early April, both the Georgia and South
Carolina Departments of Labor stated they were waiting for policy from DC.  In late April, there still appeared to be
little understanding of how the program would work.  It appears that finally, on May 11th, 2012, a
mass email from VA was released detailing how the program would be
implemented, only 4 days later on May 15th.

Obviously, if that is typical of the level of awareness at
the One Stop Centers, we have big problems. 
Secretary Ortiz, unless your Federal staff here in DC and in the states
are contacting the disabled veteran outreach program specialists and local
veteran employment representatives in the One Stop Centers, there is no way you
are going to know whether the word is getting out and how the One Stop Centers
intend to fill the training slots.  I
truly hope the case I just summarized is an isolated case, but I am not convinced
that it is.

Having said that, I am pleased to see that over eleven
thousand six hundred applications have been received so far, meaning that we
are well on our way to filling all of the forty five thousand slots paid for in
the VOW Act for the remainder of this fiscal year.

I also encourage each of the Members to make a strong effort
in their districts to get the word out about VRAP so that we see the
unemployment rate among veterans in their prime earning years continue to
decrease.

I want to share a story about one my constituents, Mr. Todd
C. Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan is a 35 year old veteran of the U.S. Navy.  He learned about the VRAP program through an
advertisement that the local one-stopran
in the local newspaper. He was excited to learn of this “second chance” for Veterans, as his GI Bill benefits had recently
expired.  In response to the newspaper
advertisement, Mr. Buchanan scheduled an appointment to review his options with
a local Veterans Employment Representative. 

The veteran and veterans’ employment representative cross-walked
the VRAP high demand occupations with the Okaloosa and Walton counties fastest
growing occupation list, and considered the veteran’s aptitude and
interest.  Mr. Buchanan was enrolled
through VA’s online application and will register at the Choice Technical
Center for a welding certificate.  

I submit to the committee that Mr. Buchanan is the type of
veteran that this program is meant to help, and hopefully it will provide him
the training he needs.

This bill passed with broad bipartisan and bicameral support
and we owe it to taxpayers and veterans to ensure it is implemented properly.

Prepared statement of Hon. Corrine Brown,
Democratic Member

Thank
you Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing on the Veterans Retraining Assistance
Program.

I
welcome this opportunity to hear what preparations have been done so far by the
Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) and the Department of Labor (Labor) to implement
the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program.  I hope that both agencies are
working together because the start date of July 1, 2012 is right around the
corner.  We need to be proactive in marketing this program and identifying
pitfalls that could derail this program.

The retraining program is limited to 45,000 participants from July
1, 2012, through September 30, 2012, and 54,000 participants from October 1,
2012, through March 31, 2014. 

Since money for retraining programs is very difficult to find
these days I hope that both agencies understand how important it is that we
place a veteran in every slot.  This program will run for a short period and we
need to make sure we make the most out of the limited time that we now.  

The Bureau of Labor statistics reports that in 2011 about 5.9
million veterans had served on active duty from the Gulf War era I to the Korean
War.  Therefore, I expect Labor and VA to find more than enough veterans to
fill all the slots that they will have available.  It would be a tragedy if we
do not help veterans take advantage of this opportunity.

I know that employees from VA and Labor were here last week to
brief Committee staff on key milestones and current status.  I appreciate
everyone coming here again to answer more questions. 

Since the retraining program started accepting applications I
would like to know if there have been any problems.  The key thing that I am
looking for today from both agencies is honesty on where the program stands
today and assurance that all problems are being resolved.  Do not wait until
the last minute to tell us that there are problems that would derail this
program.  We need to know in a timely fashion if there are any problems with the
program roll out and if any changes are needed to make sure this program is
successful.

The
Bureau of Labor statistics reports that the overall unemployment rate for
veterans is 8.3 percent for 2011.  The 12 months that veterans
are now eligible for should be a springboard to better employment in this very
difficult job market.  The Department of Labor has listed 210 high demand
occupations for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program.

I would like to ask that the Department of Labor keep an open mind
if opportunities arise to increase the number of high demand occupations.  In
this very poor economy we should allow veterans to pursue all worthwhile
occupations that lead to gainful employment.

The VOW act includes the extension of tax credits that were a key
part of the President’s agenda.   The act expands the definition of qualified
veteran in the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to help spur veteran hiring
in the private sector by giving employers a tax credit.  The VOW act also
extends the current categories for veterans receiving Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. 

The President should be commended for for his leadership and
continuing hard work in getting veterans hired.

Thank you Mr. Chairman I look forward to hearing from the
witnesses here today.

Prepared statement of The
Honorable Allison Hickey

Good morning, Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and Members of the
Committee.  I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the actions taken by
the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to implement the provisions in title II
of Public Law 112-56, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.  I am accompanied
today by Mr. Curtis L. Coy, Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity,
VBA. 

My testimony will discuss
implementation of the relevant sections of the legislation, with particular
emphasis on section 211.  I will also
review VA’s outreach activities aimed at enrolling individuals in the Veterans
Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) and promoting the enhanced services
provided by VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E)
program.  VA is committed to successfully
executing, in collaboration with other agencies and stakeholders, all
provisions of the law for which we have responsibility.

Section 211 –
VRAP

Implementation

VA and the Department of Labor (DOL)
collaboratively developed the VRAP application process and the requirements for
the information technology (IT) system changes to support this process.  To efficiently leverage existing systems, VA
modified its application for VA education benefits for use by the VRAP
applicants.  The VRAP application is
available online at www.benefits.va.gov/VOW, a web site developed specifically for portions of
the VOW to Hire Heroes Act.  This site
can be accessed through eBenefits, the GI Bill web site, DOL web sites, and
numerous other web sites.  Additionally,
Veterans can visit their local DOL
One-Stop Career
Center locations for
application assistance.  Applications can
be submitted through VA’s Veterans’ Online Application (VONAPP) web site.  To be eligible for participation, DOL must
determine that the applicant is unemployed, 
not enrolled in any federal or state job-training program, and is
between the ages of 35 and 60.  VA
verifies the applicant’s Veteran status and type of discharge, and confirms
that the applicant has no other VA education benefits available for use, and is
not in receipt of compensation for a service-connected disability rated totally
disabling by reason of unemployability. 
After  eligibility has been
established, the applicant identifies his or her intended high-demand
occupation category and applicable training institution.  Information about the high-demand
occupations, identified by DOL, is available on VA’s VOW to Hire Heroes web
site as well as DOL’s web site. 

VA began accepting VRAP applications
on May 15, 2012, earlier than our original deadline of June 1.  In April, VA education claims personnel
received training necessary to process VRAP applications and provide
notifications of eligibility decisions to applicants through issuance of
certificates of eligibility.  Claims
examiners will use existing systems to process claims and follow similar
procedures to those for other benefit programs. 
VA has provided instruction on aspects of the program that differ from
existing benefits.    VA’s claims
processing IT systems were modified to process and issue payments to VRAP
participants.  Once the school certifies
enrollment for the VRAP student, his or her claim will be processed in the same
manner as Montgomery GI Bill claims, using the Benefits Delivery Network.  VA will review daily reports on the number of
approved participants to ensure compliance with the parameter of the law to
approve only 45,000 applications prior to October 1, 2012.

To ensure this program’s success, VA
and DOL staff and leadership continue to collaborate and develop implementation
strategies, share information, and participate in biweekly meetings to track
progress.  Internally, VA staff and
project managers meet daily to discuss implementation status and ensure we
remain on track to meet the July 1, 2012, implementation date.   

Outreach

A comprehensive outreach program was developed to
successfully launch and implement VRAP. 
Reaching the target population of 35 to 60 year old unemployed Veterans
presents challenges.  According to the
latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 400,000
unemployed Veterans are between the ages of 35 and 60.  If VA and DOL are successful in signing up
99,000 Veterans, then one in four unemployed Veterans in this age range will
participate in VRAP.   A centralized
system to identify eligible Veterans does not exist.  Therefore, VA and DOL are  working with their numerous stakeholders to
reach eligible Veterans, including: other federal, state, and local government
entities; Veterans service organizations; non-profit organizations; military
associations; military alumni associations; and private companies.  The central component of this outreach plan
is the VOW web site.  Outreach materials
and postings on various websites direct interested Veterans and organizations
to the VOW web site for additional information. 
Frequently asked questions, employer information, and VOW fact sheets
are also available on the web page.

VA and DOL are working
collaboratively to ensure all DOL
One-Stop Career
Center office staff
have the information and tools they need to successfully assist Veterans in
applying for VOW benefits.  VA will
continue to work with DOL to reach as many Veterans as possible. 

Prior to opening the VRAP application period on May
15, information about the VOW to Hire Heroes Act was posted on the web sites of
numerous organizations, including: DOL, Army (MyArmyBenefits), America’s Job
Exchange, Military.com, American Legion Department of Illinois: First Division,
Together We Served, Vets Rock, and Blue Star Families.

VA developed an outreach and communication strategy
that focuses on several areas.  This
strategy leverages multiple outreach methods to ensure that VA reaches the
target population of 35-60 year old unemployed Veterans.  We have implemented a comprehensive mix of
web-based outreach and direct stakeholder engagement to reach Veterans who may
not use the internet as their primary method of learning about benefits.

 Emails
and Letters

Since March 2012, VA has emailed individuals and
groups with the potential to reach over four million Veterans.  VA emailed: 121,000 Veterans and 2,700
employers who use VetSuccess.gov, over 16,000 registered VA4Vets users, and
over 80 non-profit organizations.  We
have also posted a message on the eBenefits message center.  The results have been encouraging.  For example, the Defense Finance and
Accounting Service (DFAS) will distribute VRAP information to all
Servicemembers, National Guard and Reserve members, military retirees, and
federal civilian employees. 

VA used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to
identify areas with the highest Veterans’ unemployment.  VA emailed the local government officials in
the 100 counties with the highest Veterans’ unemployment to request their
assistance in sharing the message about the VRAP program and VA’s acceptance of
applications starting on May 15, 2012. 

This month, VA initiated a VRAP
email campaign to individuals who contacted VA via our electronic internet
inquiry system within the past six months. 
VA also developed an email subscription that allows individuals to sign
up to receive emails regarding the program. 
As of May 15, 2012, VA delivered over 460,000 emails, which were viewed
or opened by 23 percent of recipients (which is 12 percent above the average
“open rate” according to MailerMailer®).  Additionally, we reached out to several
direct-mail organizations to explore the potential for limited direct-mailings
to Veterans.   

Social
Media

VA is leveraging its social media to reach the target
population.  As of May 14, we have posted
15 Facebook messages on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, VBA, and VA Facebook pages to
publicize information about VRAP.  The
posts provide general program information and salary outlooks for specific
high-demand career fields.  These posts
yielded over 1,600 “shares,” 1,200 “likes,” and 250 “comments.”  VA has posted 13 tweets on the VA and VBA
Twitter accounts, which resulted in 174 “retweets” and 37 “favorites.”  Also, on May 10, 2012, VA posted a blog
entitled “Coming Soon: A Program to Retrain Vets.”  Additionally, on May 15, the day VA began
accepting VRAP applications, the White House’s Joining Forces Team sent out a
blog notice that reached almost 1.4 million individuals. 

VA met with representatives from Google and is
developing plans for advertisements on the web site in June.  We posted VRAP information on web sites of
more than 20 LinkedIn groups that include about 235,000 members.  The groups included military networking
groups, Veteran groups, and industry networking groups. 

Media
and Partnerships

Several newspapers and media outlets have or will
publish free of charge VRAP advertisements. 
Publications include: Federal, Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps
Times; the Fayetteville Observer (Fort Bragg); and the San Antonio Express
News.  These papers have a readership of
over 300,000 subscribers, which does not include the free Military Times
publications provided to military units. 
Additionally, many companies have agreed to include VRAP information on
their web sites and in their newsletters. 

VA is working with employers and community
organizations to distribute information about VRAP.  VA routinely monitors media coverage of
Veterans’ employment to find and post information regarding upcoming job fairs
and events on VA Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.  In recent months, VA has highlighted VRAP in
a variety of interviews and articles related to Veteran unemployment.  Media outlets publishing information from VA
include: the Atlanta Journal, USA TODAY, the Wall Street Journal, and the
Pittsburgh Gazette. 

VA is using available internal and external mechanisms
to reach as many unemployed Veterans as possible.  VA held numerous meetings and discussions
with stakeholders, such as the United States Automobile Association, LinkedIn,
Armed Forces Services Corporation, and the National Governors’
Association.  VBA collaborated with VA’s
Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnership office, which will outreach
and provide program information to over 1,200 community organizations, and  Veterans service organizations, Veterans
alumni groups, non-profit organizations that serve Veterans, and community
organizations in states with high unemployment rates.  VA asked State Approving Agency partners and
over 900 vocational rehabilitation contract counselors to carry our message.  VA field staff continue to participate in
local job fairs, and we have placed particular emphasis on the U.S. Chamber of
Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes Job Fairs. 
VA will also conduct a three-day Hiring Fair and Open House from June
26-28, 2012 and its annual National Veteran Small Business Conference and
Expo. 

All of VA’s outreach efforts are focused on
distributing information about VRAP and directing individuals to the VOW web
site for additional information.  Prior
to VA accepting VRAP applications on May 15, there were almost 17,000 visitors
to the VOW web site, and over 13,000 unique individuals signed up for VRAP
emails. 

Section 222 – Individualized assessment on equivalence
between military occupational specialty (MOS) and qualifications for private
sector employment

The Department of Defense (DoD) will provide the
individualized assessments to Servicemembers and share the assessments with DOL
and VA following the study that DOL expects to begin by October 2012 and
complete in November 2013.  VA’s VR&E
Service is collaborating with DoD and DOL on the scope of the study.  VA uses the
assessments to develop education and employment goals for transitioning
Servicemembers who have applied for education or
VR&E benefits.  This provision of the
law will enhance our beneficiaries’ ability to meet their academic and career
objectives.   

Section 231 – Two-year extension to
provide Vocational Rehabilitation to Servicemembers

A memorandum of
understanding (MOU) between VA and DoD is in place that covers this two-year
extension, and VR&E Service has issued procedures for immediate
implementation.  This MOU covers VR&E
counseling for Servicemembers transitioning through the Integrated Disability
Evaluation System (IDES) at designated locations.  Early access to VR&E services and assistance
offers Servicemembers resources that aid their recovery, transition, and
reintegration into civilian life. 
Eligible Servicemembers are referred to VR&E if they are: evaluated
by a DoD or VA physician and are determined to have a severe injury or illness
that could cause their referral into IDES; assigned to a Service’s Wounded
Warrior Program and are participating in the Education and Employment
Initiative (E2I) program; or being processed through IDES and referred to a
Physical Evaluation Board.  The IDES
project plan, which provides for 110 VR&E counselors to be stationed at
selected IDES sites in FY 2012, will enable aggressive implementation of this
section.  VR&E Service issued
guidance and began providing these services in February 2012 at Fort Campbell,
Kentucky; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; and the Naval Medical Center in San
Diego, California.  Additional locations
have been identified, and VA is coordinating with DoD to secure the space
needed for full implementation.

Section 232 – Expand VA authority to
reimburse salaries of Veterans’ participating in a VR&E program

Section 232 of the
bill allows VA to expand the Special Employer Incentive (SEI) program to
Veterans participating in a VR&E program, even if the Veteran has not
completed a training program under VR&E. 
VR&E issued procedures and staff training to implement this
provision in January 2012.  Employers who
hire Veterans will receive up to a 50 percent reimbursement of the Veteran's
salary during the SEI program, which typically lasts up to six months, while
also receiving supplies, equipment, uniforms, and any necessary
accommodations.  VA is responsible for
determining eligibility, and participants have an increased chance of being
hired for permanent employment.  Veterans
learn valuable skills in practical settings while receiving one-on-one support
from their Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor or Employment Coordinator.

Section 233 – Additional VR&E
services to Veterans with exhausted rights to unemployment benefits

VR&E has worked
with DOL to identify and conduct outreach to Veterans who may qualify for an
additional 12 months of vocational rehabilitation services under section 233 of
the VOW to Hire Heroes Act.  VR&E
instructed field personnel to begin accepting referrals and applications in
February 2012.  VR&E issued final
procedures and training to the field in May 2012, so that individuals may begin
rehabilitation programs by June 1, 2012, the effective date of this provision. 

Mr.
Chairman, this concludes my statement.  I
would be pleased to answer any questions you or other Members of the Committee
may have.

Prepared statement of Mr.
Ismael "Junior" Ortiz

Good morning Chairman Miller,
Ranking Member Filner, and distinguished members of the Committee.  Thank you for the invitation to participate
in today’s hearing on “Reviewing the Implementation of Major Provisions of the
VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.”  As I
stated when I testified before the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity in
December, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 is an important part of the
Administration’s efforts to ensure that America fulfills its obligations to
our returning Service Members, Veterans, and their families. 

President Obama, Secretary Solis, and Secretary Shinseki are
committed to serving these brave men and women as well as they have served
us.  In support of this goal, the
Department of Labor (DOL) is working to implement the VOW Act along with other
new initiatives to train, transition and employ Veterans.  These initiatives are in addition to the core
programs DOL has been administering for decades, providing Veterans and
transitioning Service Members with critical resources and expertise to assist
and prepare them to obtain meaningful careers, maximize their employment
opportunities, and protect their employment rights.

DOL is fully committed to serving our
transitioning Service Members, Veterans and their families through our current
programs as well as new initiatives like VRAP. 
DOL ensures that Veterans, disabled Veterans and eligible military
spouses receive priority of service by the
staff of all DOL-funded employment and training programs including the many
programs operated out of the approximately 2,800 One-Stop Career Centers
(One-Stop Centers) that serve as the cornerstone for the Nation’s workforce
investment system.  As you know, much of
the Department’s work with Veterans and other eligible individuals is
concentrated on maximizing the employment and training opportunities developed through
strong relationships with the State Workforce Agencies.  DOL has decades of experience working with
the employer community, at both local and national levels, to recruit, train,
and find employment for Veterans and transitioning Service Members.

As a result, we are able to
provide millions of Veterans with the training; assistance and support they
need to find and retain employment. 
During the last program year alone (PY 2010), DOL served over 1.7
million Veterans in various employment and training programs with strong outcomes. 
For instance, the annual outcome data reported on December 31, 2011
shows that nearly 570,000 Veterans who were unemployed at the time of their
program participation found employment within 90 days of program completion.

The VOW
Act has enhanced and added to the programs and services DOL provides to
Veterans, transitioning Service Members and their families.  Since the legislation was enacted in November
of 2011, DOL has been working diligently to implement the provisions as I will
explain section by section below: 

VETERANS
RETRAINING ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

Section 211 of the VOW Act
established the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program for unemployed Veterans
aged 35 to 60.  The VRAP, which entitles
eligible Veterans to retraining assistance for up to 12 months when they pursue
a qualified program or training, must be up and running no later than July 1,
2012.  The VOW Act specifies that the
Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) and DOL will jointly administer the
process for determining Veterans’ eligibility for VRAP.  Specifically, DOL is responsible for determining
applicants’ initial eligibility based on age, employment status, and previous
participation in other job training programs. 
Following DOL’s determination, the VA is required to certify applicants
based on several additional criteria, such as the conditions of an applicant’s
discharge from active duty service and his or her eligibility for other forms
of assistance.  Other DOL-specific
requirements include identifying the high-demand occupations that will be the
focus of VRAP training, and contacting Veterans within 30 days of completing or
terminating the VRAP training to inform them of the employment placement
services that are available to them.  The
VOW Act also requires DOL to work with VA to establish a process for resolving
appeals of eligibility determinations made by the agencies. 

We are well on our way to fully
implementing this program.  Early on, DOL
established the necessary Memorandum of Agreement with VA to execute this
program.  DOL then identified over 200
high-demand occupations in which Veterans could be trained.  These occupations were selected because they
meet the VRAP training criteria and are projected to have high growth rates
and/or large numbers of openings based on Bureau of Labor Statistics employment
projections for 2010 to 2020 (more than 10,000 national openings and
above-average projected growth rates of greater than 14.3 percent over the
period).  In fact, the more than 200
high-demand occupations represent 14,796,700 total projections over this
period.  Additionally, DOL has enhanced
the My Next Move for Veterans Web
site to display VRAP information during online career searches, which allows
VRAP applicants an opportunity to explore and learn about their career options.  After working closely with VA to create an online
application process, we began accepting applications on May 15, 2012.

Outreach and Technical Assistance

DOL has
been engaged in an extensive outreach effort in collaboration with the VA to
inform eligible Veterans, the public workforce system, Veterans Service
Organizations (VSOs), and other stakeholders on VRAP.  These efforts include the creation and
dissemination of fact sheets, press releases, blog entries, email alerts,
flyers, and other communication techniques.  In addition, both the Veterans’ Employment and
Training Service (VETS) and Employment and Training
Administration (ETA) have issued guidance to their respective
constituencies.  VETS issued Veterans’
Program Letter 7-12, and ETA issued Training and Employment Notice 43-11, which
provided information about VRAP to the public workforce system.  We will make additional information available
as procedures and protocols for implementing the program are finalized.  DOL has strongly encouraged State Workforce
Agencies, Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists and Local
Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVERs) funded by VETS through the Jobs
for Veterans State Grants Program, and other workforce system stakeholders, to assist
potentially eligible Veterans who come into a One-Stop Career Center, and to
reach out to potentially eligible Veterans who have previously received
services through the Wegner-Peyser Act, Workforce Investment Act (WIA), or from
DVOPs or LVERs.  DOL’s regional offices
will maintain contact with the states, DVOPs, and LVERs, as well as support
outreach by providing technical assistance, information about possible outreach
opportunities, and informal check-ins.

A DOL and
VA webinar was held on May 9, 2012 to inform and train the public workforce
system on the VRAP program.  The webinar
included 398 attendees, and over 4,800 people have viewed the archived webinar
to date. Topics included: an overview of the VRAP program, the eligibility
determination process from both the DOL and VA perspective, a discussion of the
high demand occupations for VRAP, a demonstration of changes to the website My Next Move for Veterans, which included
changes to sync with the VRAP program and a walk-through of the online
application by VA staff.  DOL also sent
out an email push to more than 4,000 members of the workforce system.  The audience of the webinar and email push included:
State Directors of Veterans Employment and Training, State Labor Commissioners,
State Veterans Agency Directors, State WIA Liaisons, State Workforce
Administrators, State Veterans Coordinators, members and staff of local
Workforce Investment Boards, One-Stop Career Center Managers, ETA Regional
Administrators, and VETS Regional Administrators.

TRAINING AND REHABILITATION FOR VETERANSWITH SERVICE-CONNECTED DISABILITIES WHO
HAVE EXHAUSTED RIGHTS TO UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS UNDER STATE LAW

Section 233 of the VOW Act amends
current law to allow individuals with service-connected disabilities who have
exhausted Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits under state law to seek
assistance from additional rehabilitation programs specified in the legislation
as of tomorrow, June 1, 2012.  The VA is
primarily responsible for the administration of this provision; however, DOL
had a key role in providing VA with input to developing the eligibility
determination process.  The agreed
approach for determining that an individual has exhausted regular state UI
benefits is that VA will send a letter to UI agencies with the applicant’s
information to request validation of exhaustion of benefits along with a
release of information form indicating the applicant’s consent.  To determine that the individual has no
future entitlement to regular state benefits, they will be instructed to apply
for benefits and receive a denial.  This process allows for a review of
all recent employment that may trigger new benefit entitlement.  It is also used for other benefit programs
that require information related to UI, such as the Supplemental Nutritional
Assistance Program.  The Department is in
the process of issuing an Unemployment Insurance Program Letter to the states
that describes the program and shares VA’s approach to validating both
exhaustion of regular UI benefits and/or no new/additional entitlement to state
UI benefits. 

MANDATORY PARTICIPATION OF MEMBERS OF THE
ARMED FORCES IN THE TRANSITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (TAP) OF DEPARTMENT OF
DEFENSE

Section
221 of the VOW Act requires mandatory participation, with some exemption
authority, in the Employment Assistance, Job Training Assistance, and Other
Transitional Services under title 10 United States Code section 1144, better
known as the TAP Employment Workshop. 
While this requirement is the responsibility of the Secretaries of
Defense and Homeland Security, the Secretary of Labor is required under this
section to enter into a detailed agreement to carry out this section with the
aforementioned Secretaries and the Secretary of VA.  The department leads are in the process of
redrafting the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to ensure there is clear
understanding and guidance as to how the mandatory participation requirement
will be carried out. 

INDIVIDUALIZED ASSESSMENT FOR MEMBERS OF THE
ARMED FORCES UNDER TRANSITION ASSISTANCE ON EQUIVALENCE BETWEENSKILLS DEVELOPED IN MILITARY OCCUPATIONAL
SPECIALTIES AND QUALIFICATIONSREQUIRED
FOR CIVILIAN EMPLOYMENT WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR

Section 222 of the VOW Act requires DOL, in consultation
with the VA and DOD, to enter into a contract with an organization for a study
that identifies equivalence of skills between military and civilian
employment.  DOL currently has online
tools that “identify equivalences” by enabling Veterans to enter a military
occupation code or title and look up related information on related civilian
careers and on related job openings by geographic area.  DOL has also received information from DOD
regarding their ongoing skills assessment activities. 

Our plan is to leverage current DoD research already
underway to identify additional equivalencies and enhance existing online tools
to support individualized assessments. 
We also plan to expand the work being conducted by DoD to identify
civilian equivalencies for additional military occupations not included in the
current DoD study.

TRANSITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM CONTRACTING

Section 223 of the VOW Act requires DOL to contract out TAP
counseling, employment services, and assessments at all locations by November
21, 2013.  The contract specifications
and statement of work have been drafted to meet this requirement.  DOL published a Request for Information (RFI)
on May 14, 2012, to gather information to help make a decision on what steps to
take next.  As DOL testified before the
Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity last year, we are in the process of
changing over to an all-contract facilitator staff for the DOL Employment
Workshop and believe we are on track to meet this requirement by the
deadline.  In the interim, the
VETS-funded state employees currently facilitating the workshops are being
trained in delivering the new curriculum. 
Professional contract facilitators will be trained in delivery of the
new curriculum once the contract is in place.

IMPROVED ACCESS TO APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAMS FOR MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES
WHO ARE BEING SEPARATED FROM ACTIVE DUTY OR
RETIRED

 Section 225 of the VOW Act permits members of the armed forces who
are eligible for TAP to participate in Registered Apprenticeship or
Pre-Apprenticeship programs.  DOL
believes there are numerous opportunities for Veterans in the Registered
Apprenticeship system and is exploring potential connections to the United States Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) and
Guard Apprenticeship Program Initiative (GAPI).   Last month, we created a VA/DOL flyer
outlining benefits available to transitioning Service Members under the VOW Act
that includes language referencing TAP eligible Service Members’ ability to
participate in either the Registered Apprenticeship or Pre-Apprenticeship
programs.  In addition, we have
established a working group of the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on
Apprenticeship consisting of employer, labor and public representatives from
the Registered Apprenticeship Community to identify options to improve access
for Veterans to Registered Apprenticeship programs.

COLLABORATIVE VETERANS’ TRAINING, MENTORING,
AND PLACEMENT PROGRAM

Section
234 of the VOW Act amends chapter 41 of title 38 U.S.C. to require DOL to
establish a collaborative Veterans training, mentoring and placement grant
program.  More specifically, the
Secretary would award grants to not
more than three eligible nonprofit organizations for periods of two years to
provide training and mentoring for eligible Veterans who seek employment.  While $4.5 million was authorized to be
appropriated for the period consisting of FY 2012 and 2013, funds were not
appropriated for this new program.  Although
VETS cannot carry out Section 234 at this time, on April 30, we issued a
Solicitation for Grant Applications for 2012 Veterans’ Workforce Investment
Program grants.  These VWIP grants are
similarly intended encourage innovative practices, including mentoring.

ENHANCEMENT OF DEMONSTRATION PROGRAMON CREDENTIALING AND LICENSING OF VETERANS

Section 237 of the
VOW Act amends section 4114 of title 38 U.S.C., requiring VETS to
conduct a demonstration project on credentials in consultation with ETA,
followed by a study and a report no later than180 days after November 21, 2013.   VETS and ETA staff are working closely to
complete the procurement process and begin the demonstration project by June
30, 2012.

INCLUSION OF PERFORMANCE MEASURES IN ANNUAL
REPORT ON VETERAN JOB COUNSELING, TRAINING, AND PLACEMENT PROGRAMS OF THE
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

Section 238 of the VOW Act amends section 4107(c) of title
38 U.S.C. by requiring the annual report mandated under that section to include
new performance measures on DOL Veteran counseling, training and placement
programs.  DOL has developed the
Information Collection Request to modify and extend the Labor Exchange
Reporting System to collect the new data and is awaiting approval as part of
the Paperwork Reduction Act.  Additional
data elements will be added to the Labor Exchange Reporting System (LERS) to
collect median earnings as well as average earnings.  We anticipate this change occurring before
July 1, 2012.

CLARIFICATION OF PRIORITY OF SERVICE FORVETERANS IN DEPARTMENT OF LABOR JOB
TRAINING PROGRAMS

Section 239 of the VOW Act amends current law to clarify
that priority of service includes “giving access to such services to a covered
person before a non-covered person, or if resources are limited giving access
to such services to a covered person instead of a non-covered person.”  To enforce and track this change in law there
will be another report requirement added (9002F) to the LERS by July 1, 2012 to
the system for Priority of Service Reporting.  

EVALUATION OF INDIVIDUALS RECEIVING TRAINING
AT THE NATIONAL VETERANS’ EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING SERVICES INSTITUTE (NVTI)

Section 240 of the VOW Act amends section
4109 of title 38 U.S.C. to require that Disabled Veteran Outreach Program
(DVOP) specialists and Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVER)
who receive training from NVTI are given a final examination.  Examination results are required to be shared
with the entity that sponsored the DVOP or LVER who received the training.  DOL oversaw the creation and validation of
examination currently in place.  DOL also
developed the remedial training and testing for those who do not pass the final
examination.  The first examinations were
administered to the NVTI trainees on May 21, 2012.

REQUIREMENTS
FOR FULL-TIME DISABLED VETERANS’ OUTREACH PROGRAM SPECIALISTS AND LOCAL
VETERANS’ EMPLOYMENT REPRESENTATIVES

Section 241 requires the Secretary to conduct audits to
ensure that DVOPs and LVERs are complying with the mandated responsibilities
and further, are not serving non-Veterans. 
Additionally, Section 241 allows state governors to request a waiver and
hire consolidated DVOP/LVER staff.  VETS
will issue a Veterans Program Letter (VPL) clearly articulating the
expectations for the DVOPs and LVERs under this section to the state workforce
agencies.  Finally, DOL is developing auditing
protocols for pilot testing.  The audits
will begin in the third quarter of this fiscal year.  To implement the consolidated position, DOL developed
the relevant criteria and is now working with a few states to validate the
process and determine potential impact on the overall workforce system.  DOL expects to implement this section in July
2012 to coincide with the release of the Jobs for Veterans State Grants’ (JVSG)
state planning guidance issued that month.

RETURNING HEROES AND WOUNDED WARRIORSWORK OPPORTUNITY
TAX CREDITS

Section 261 of the VOW Act includes the extension of
important tax credits that were an integral part of the President’s
agenda.  Specifically, the VOW Act amends
Section 51 the Internal Revenue Code by amending and expanding the definition
of “qualified Veterans” to grant a tax credit to employers for hiring certain
qualified Veterans, called the Work Opportunity Tax Credit or WOTC.  The VOW Act extends the current category for Veterans receiving Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, extends and amends the categories
of disability for Veterans with service-connected disabilities, and established
two new unemployed Veteran categories, one for Veterans who have been
unemployed for four weeks, and
one for Veterans who have been unemployed for six months.  VOW further
amends the Internal Revenue Code by
allowing 501(c) tax-exempt organizations that hire qualified Veterans to claim the WOTCagainst the
employer’s share of social security tax imposed under the Federal Insurance
Contributions Act.  

While the IRS is primarily responsible for carrying out the tax credit provisions of the VOW Act,
the State Workforce Agencies
(SWAs) process, verify and certify timely filed and eligible certification
requests by employers or their representatives. DOL funds the SWAs’ administration of these
provisions, provides technical assistance to the SWAs, oversees overall
implementation and tracks the WOTC data on the number of certifications
issued by the SWAs to employers
for Veterans hired.  Once
employers receive a SWA
certification, employers can then
claim the actual tax credit with the IRS.  As a result of the VOW Act amendments and provisions, ETA
issued Training and Employment Guidance Letter 30-11, which provided the public
workforce system with guidance on this new provision and related IRS guidance
on submission of Form 8850.  

Repurposing of
Funds

In addition, the Department of Labor Appropriations Act,
2012 (P.L. 112-74, Division F, Title I) provided the authority to repurpose
resources from an existing demonstration project to make them available for
other pilots, demonstrations, and research activities, and for implementation
of the VOW Act within the Employment and Training Administration.  A total of $5.489 million of PY 2011
resources is now available for these purposes, including updating state data
systems for the Priority of Service reporting requirements and adjustments to
the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, updating Federal management information
systems to collect revised performance reports from states to support
implementation of VOW, studying and disseminating equivalencies between
military and civilian occupations, and providing technical assistance to the
public workforce system on implementation of VOW.  

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Filner, and distinguished
members of the Committee, DOL and our sister agencies are committed to ensuring
successful implementation of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 in support of
Veterans’ success in the civilian labor market. 
We are well on our way to fulfilling this goal.  Thank you again for the opportunity to
testify today.  I would be pleased to
answer any questions you may have.

Prepared statement of
Mr. Mark Andrekovich

MAXIMUS appreciates the opportunity to submit
testimony for consideration by the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs as it reviews
the implementation of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. 

For nearly forty years, MAXIMUS has partnered
with state, federal, and local governments to provide health and human service
programs to a diverse array of communities.  Since 1978, MAXIMUS has helped
companies process eligible new hires through the Targeted Jobs Tax Credit
Program, now the Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program (WOTC).

As you know, in late 2011, Congress passed
The Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act, including a tax
credit to assist veterans and wounded warriors in returning to work. On November 21, 2011
President Obama signed the Act into law.  The VOW to Hire Heroes Act has the
potential to help veterans obtain employment.

We respectfully request that Congress act, as
soon as possible, to extend the provisions of WOTC that expired, with the
exception of the veterans hiring provision, at the end of calendar year 2011.
The success of the Veterans Tax Credit requires the infrastructure of the
larger WOTC program. 

Many businesses that participate in WOTC
share the perspective that, without full WOTC reauthorization, the program
falls short in supporting their hiring needs. The most recent Department of
Labor data shows that less than 2% of WOTC tax credits issued were for veterans. 
Without reauthorization of the entire WOTC program, the administrative burden of
processing tax credits is too great for businesses and veterans will not
receive the opportunity to obtain the gainful employment they deserve.

The WOTC program helped businesses and more
than 940,000 individuals last year alone. With reauthorization of the full WOTC
program, states and their private sector partners can successfully implement
the new Veterans Tax Credit.

We
are writing to ask that Congress ensure the success of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act
and help stimulate economic growth by reauthorizing the entire WOTC program.