Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Hearing Transcript on Transition Assistance Program for Guard and Reserve Forces.
TRANSITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM FOR GUARD AND RESERVE FORCES
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS
MAY 16, 2008
SERIAL No. 110-87
Printed for the use of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
STEVE BUYER, Indiana, Ranking
Malcom A. Shorter, Staff Director
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
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 16, 2008
Transition Assistance Program for Guard and Reserve Forces
U.S. Department of Labor, John M. McWilliam, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Veterans' Employment and Training Service
Prepared statement of Mr. McWilliam
U.S. Department of Defense, Jane Burke, Principal Director, Military Community and Family Policy
Prepared statement of Ms. Burke
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, James A. Whitson, Director, Eastern Area, Veterans Benefits Administration
Prepared statement of Mr. Whitson
American Legion, Department of Indiana, Stephen W. Short, Department Adjutant
Prepared statement of Mr. Short
Blosser, Staff Sergeant Donald A., Granger, IN
Prepared statement of Staff Sergeant Blosser
Indiana National Guard:
Major General R. Martin Umbarger, Adjutant General of Indiana, Joint Forces Headquarters
Prepared statement of Major General Umbarger
Major Cathy Van Bree, Director of Family Programs, Joint Forces Headquarters
Prepared statement of Major Van Bree
Colonel Roger D. Peterman, Transition Assistance Advisor
Prepared statement of Colonel Peterman
Masapollo, Lori, Niles, MI
Prepared statement of Ms. Masapollo
McCool, Dawn, North Liberty, IN
Prepared statement of Ms. McCool
Saenz, Roy, South Bend, IN
Prepared statement of Mr. Saenz
Whitehead, Gary M., Elkhart County Veterans Service Officer, Elkhart, IN
Prepared statement of Mr. Whitehead
Williams, Elizabeth L., Indianapolis, IN
Prepared statement of Ms. Williams
SUBMISSION FOR THE RECORD
Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, Indianapolis, IN, Charles T. "Tom" Applegate, Director, statement
TRANSITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM FOR GUARD AND RESERVE FORCES
Friday, May 16, 2008
U. S. House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 1:00 p.m., at Indiana University-South Bend, Wiekamp Hall, Room 1001, 1700 Mishawaka Avenue, South Bend, Indiana, Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin [Chairwoman of the Subcommittee] presiding.
Present: Representatives Herseth Sandlin, Donnelly and Boozman.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing on the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) for Guard and Reserve Forces, provided by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), will come to order.
I'd like to thank my good friend and Ranking Member, Mr. John Boozman of Arkansas, for joining us here today, for his leadership on the Subcommittee, and for the productive bipartisan working relationship that we enjoy.
I would also like to thank Congressman Joe Donnelly, from here in Indiana, for his hospitality in inviting us to South Bend. I'm honored to be here today. Mr. Donnelly is a hard-working, valued Member of this Subcommittee, who also works in a strong bipartisan manner to provide our Nation's servicemembers, veterans, and their families the best available programs and services they need and deserve.
Much progress has been made in education benefits, vocational rehabilitation services, employment programs, and VA Home Loan programs; however, I think everyone would agree that we must remain vigilant to guard against any decline in benefits or services, and we must continue to address unique needs experienced by members of the National Guard and Reserve Forces and their families.
Like many of my colleagues on the Subcommittee, the State of South Dakota has had servicemembers who have been activated in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these brave men and women have returned injured and are currently in need of healthcare and employment services. They, like all disabled veterans from around the country, deserve our best efforts to provide a seamless and effective transition from military service to civilian life and the workforce.
Earlier last year, this Subcommittee held its first hearing that included the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service programs that were created to assist veterans with employment assistance and protect the servicemember's employment rights. While these programs have proven to be quite successful in certain parts of the country, today we will receive testimony from servicemembers who could benefit from these programs but who may not be aware they exist.
Like my colleagues here today, I have had the opportunity to meet with local government officials and veterans back in my district in my home State of South Dakota. I have had many opportunities to speak with leadership staff, the Governor of South Dakota, Mike Rounds, and the Adjutant General of South Dakota's National Guard, Major General Steve Doohen, about ways to improve existing veterans' programs.
I am glad that we have succeeded in making some progress for our Nation's Reserve Forces. Included in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, we were able to gain bipartisan support for the language that would allow mobilized members of the Reserve Forces to use their Chapter 1607 education benefits for ten years after they separate from service. While this is progress in the right direction, we must remain committed to expanding all benefits to help meet the needs of our servicemembers in the 21st Century without sacrificing the quality of the services and the programs for veterans of past wars.
Furthermore, our Subcommittee has been working with the full Committee Chairman, Congressman Bob Filner of California, to address the immediate needs of servicemembers and their families who face possible foreclosures on their homes. The Ranking Member of the full Committee, Steve Buyer, also from Indiana, has also been working with us to address the foreclosure crisis and its impact on our Nation's veterans.
As we have heard at a recent Subcommittee hearing, data specific to veterans does not exist or is limited in scope, leaving us with an incomplete picture that makes it hard for us to get a good idea of how the current mortgage problems are affecting our veterans. But, because veterans and their families come to us and talk with us about the problems that they are having, we know that there is more for us to do as they encounter these problems, to protect against the instability that results from losing one's home.
Today, thousands of veterans throughout our country deserve better, and we must do our best to ensure they are afforded the protections they need as they adjust to life after their military service.
I am particularly interested in hearing about the issues of concern from National Guard and Reserve members, veterans and their spouses, and the actions the administration is taking to resolve the concerns of employment, education, rehabilitation, and housing, to provide effective transition assistance. We all know the effort it takes to undergo innovative approaches to assist soldiers and their families before, during, and after deployment. I look forward to learning more about the strategies employed by the leadership here in Indiana.
I look forward to working with Mr. Boozman, with Mr. Donnelly, and the Members of this Subcommittee to ensure that all of our servicemembers are provided both proper training to complete their mission and the proper benefits to help them readjust and succeed in life after the military.
[The statement of Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. I now recognize the distinguished gentleman from Arkansas, Mr. Boozman, for any opening remarks.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you, Madam Chair. It's truly good to be here, and I want to welcome and thank our panelists for taking time out of their very busy schedules to come and share. I know this is going to be a very productive field hearing. I also want to thank Mr. Donnelly so much for inviting us to be here. It's been a real pleasure working with him on the Subcommittee. You know, I think our Subcommittee, I think the Veterans' Affairs Committee, in general, is the kind of thing that you want to see in Washington, since the people working together—you know, there's a difference between Republicans and Democrats in some areas, but when it comes to veterans, we're on the same page.
So, again, thank you for being here, and thank you in the audience for also being here. I also want to thank our Chairlady for her hard work and leadership in so many different ways.
Indiana has certainly always been well-represented in the defense of our country, from the Indiana territory militia formed in 1801 to the 196,000 Hoosiers who served in the Civil War to those now serving in the 76th Brigade Combat team. And, in fact, I was visiting with the General; Arkansas also has the 39th Brigade deployed, and they're not too far from each other, serving in Iraq.
It's no secret that today's National Guard and Reserves are now an operational force and no longer a strategic reserve. That's one of the reasons that H.R. 5684, a bill that Ms. Herseth Sandlin introduced, which we very much support, contains a very significant upgrade to the education benefits of the Guard and Reserve.
Our Guardsmen and Reservists share many of the challenges of military life with their active-duty counterparts. They also face some unique difficulties, and we should endeavor to minimize those negative centers to the Service. One such challenge is, the members of the Guard and Reserves face multiple transitions in their deployment cycles. It's not easy to leave your job and support your family, health insurance, retirement benefits, seniority, and other factors important to all of us. When the servicemember returns home, we should do everything in our power to ease that transition.
I, especially, am very pleased with you, Madam Chair, in that you and I have visited several States where they have had solid programs to smooth the transition from combat to civilian life, and I'm really eager to learn about how Indiana meets that responsibility. I'm also very pleased that you've invited several wives to testify, because, without their strong support, we would probably have to rethink how we structure our Armed Forces.
Finally, I want to thank each of those here who wear or have worn the uniform for their service. And I believe we owe a special recognition to the spouses, who pay the bills, raise the children, fix the appliances and the car, and take care of the myriad of things that keep a family intact while the servicemember is deployed. My dad was in the Air Force for twenty years, and I know how tough it is when mom or dad is away for extended periods of time. So, a special thanks to the family.
And, with that, I turn it over to you, Madam Chair.
[The statement of Congressman Boozman appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Boozman.
I would now like to recognize the distinguished gentleman from Indiana, Mr. Donnelly, for any opening remarks he may have.
Mr. DONNELLY. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
The first thing I'd like to say is how grateful we are to you and to Ranking Member Boozman for being here, being with all us to hear the concerns and the ideas of everyone in Indiana. We know how exceptional the servicemen and women from Arkansas and South Dakota are, and we have great gratitude to them, as well.
Also, I would just like to mention—and I know General Umbarger was with the family yesterday—we lost a young man on May 10th, Joseph Ford, the first member of the 76th Brigade, who was killed. And it is with deep and heart-felt feeling in all of us that we honor him here today.
And, General, thank you for being with the family yesterday, and I know you'll be with them again in the next few days.
To my fellow Members of the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee, I want to thank all of you for coming to South Bend, to the 2nd District of Indiana, a place that has exceptional pride in both our country and all those who serve. The topic of transition assistance is a timely subject around the country and here in Indiana. As was said, we have over 4,000 young men and women from our Guard in Iraq. The members of Company F, 151st Infantry of the Indiana National Guard, arrived home safely just last week back to South Bend, and they are dealing with all the transition assistance issues that any family could have to work with.
I want to recognize the immense contributions of these people in F Company, of those who are serving right now, and the men and woman here on the home front who are waiting for them to come back, trying to hold things together.
As the fourth largest National Guard in the country, Indiana is a source of tremendous pride for our State. These men and women citizen soldiers selflessly serve to protect us in the event of natural or manmade disasters at home and also on the field of battle thousands of miles away. We are in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and over 10,000 have served overseas since September 11th.
The strain on the members and their spouses and the family is great. Guardsmen and Reservists come home, just a few days removed from the war zone, and must readjust, almost on the run, to their lives as civilians. Weighing in are such challenges as returning to work during an economic downturn, resuming family responsibilities, seeking an education, getting things back together on the job front. Unfortunately, many also return home bearing physical injuries or the invisible wounds of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We owe a lot to our Hoosier men and women who put their lives on the line for our safety, but, most of all, we owe all our veterans the promise that, when they return home, they will have the access to the services they need to smoothly transition back to civilian life. Transition assistance can help us to provide this.
I want to thank Sergeants Roy Saenz and Don Blosser, Mrs. Elizabeth Williams, Mrs. Dawn McCool, and Mrs. Lori Masapollo for being here today to give your firsthand accounts of the transition assistance process and what your families have gone through.
I also mentioned him before, but I want to thank Major General Umbarger. We are fortunate to have you leading our National Guard here in our State. I want to recognize Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs Director, Tom Applegate, for his testimony today, and to thank him for the work he does on behalf of the veterans.
Finally, I want to recognize all the VSOs who are here. You are the lifeline for all our veterans throughout the Congressional District. I want to thank the representatives of the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor, and Defense for being here today, and we look forward to all the testimony. You have given your heart and soul to this country, you have continued on afterwards, and we want to thank you for your efforts, and we want to make sure that we're treating our veterans the right way.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Donnelly.
I would like to thank all of the panelists who will be testifying before the Subcommittee today.
For all of you in the audience, this is a formal hearing of the Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. We've had a chance to visit with the witnesses ahead of time, to review their testimony, to invite them formally to be on our schedule of witnesses today. The questions that Mr. Boozman, Mr. Donnelly and myself will pose will be directed to the witnesses.
We are more than happy to visit with others in attendance for any questions you may have of us or others that have joined us as witnesses following today's hearing. Unlike more informal settings, today is a formal hearing of the Veterans Affairs' Committee, and we look forward to hearing from our scheduled witnesses. Their written testimony will be made a matter of hearing record, and they will be summarizing their testimony so that we have time for questions for each of our four panels today.
Let me welcome our first panel, Major General Martin Umbarger, Indiana Adjutant General; Major Cathy Van Bree, with Indiana National Guard Family Programs; and Mr. Roger Peterman, with Indiana National Guard Transition Assistance.
Again, I would like to remind all of you, our witnesses, that your entire written statements will be entered for the hearing record. I think that our lights here will be working, correct? Each of you will be recognized for five minutes. When it gets down to the yellow, that's your signal to try to summarize, if you can. I'm usually not too hard when the five minutes are up, but, again, we do have four panels, and we want to make sure that there's plenty of time for questions. If you could just monitor that and try to wrap up within five minutes, we'd appreciate it.
General Umbarger, we're going to begin with you. Thank you, again, for your service here in the State of Indiana, the great partnership that I know you have with so many fellow adjutant generals across the country, and for your service on behalf of the men and women that you represent here in Indiana. You are now recognized for five minutes, General.
STATEMENTS OF MAJOR GENERAL R. MARTIN UMBARGER, ADJUTANT GENERAL OF INDIANA, JOINT FORCES HEADQUARTERS, INDIANA NATIONAL GUARD; MAJOR CATHY VAN BREE, DIRECTOR OF FAMILY PROGRAMS, JOINT FORCES HEADQUARTERS, INDIANA NATIONAL GUARD; AND COLONEL ROGER D. PETERMAN, TRANSITION ASSISTANCE ADVISOR, INDIANA NATIONAL GUARD
Major General UMBARGER. Well, thank you, Madam Chair—Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Congressman Boozman, my good friend Congressman Donnelly. Thanks for your support for the National Guard and all the soldiers of Indiana. Other Members on the Subcommittee, distinguished guests of the audience—I see a lot of veterans sitting behind me—God bless you. Thank you for the service to the country that you've given to us.
It's a great opportunity for me speak on the issues regarding the care, treatment and benefits of our soldiers, airmen and families. Soldiers and airmen of the Indiana National Guard continue to answer the call on behalf of our Nation and the State of Indiana. As you know, the National Guard is a dual-missioned organization. We have a State mission in support of local first responders in their time of need, responding to manmade and natural disasters of our State. Our other mission is the Federal mission of reinforcing the Army and the Air Force in their missions all over the world.
Since 9/11, I think you must agree, our great soldiers and airmen have done this important mission, and they've done it in spades. We currently have over 14,500 soldiers and airmen assigned to the Indiana National Guard, and we're extremely proud and boast of being the fourth largest Army National Guard in the Nation. We are presently at 106 percent of our authorized strength, and, over the past three years, Indiana has ranked in the top five States in the Nation in recruiting and retention. We are present—each of the past three years, the Nation's top recruiter has come from our ranks.
Over 14,000 soldiers and airmen have been deployed to fight against the Global War on Terror. Presently, we have 4,133 Indiana Guardsmen, both Army and Air, deployed to multiple sites worldwide, doing a variety of missions. No State has more deployed than Indiana, at this time.
The accomplishments of our brave soldiers and airmen are many, but the stresses of the multiple deployments have taken a toll on our force and caused many adjustments to be made by my Joint Force Headquarters' Indiana staff to support them during the pre-deployment, deployment and post-deployment phases. Prior to 9/11, what used to be a normal baseline of events, insufficient staffs of maybe one deep assisted with providing benefits to soldiers, airmen, and families. Today, in order to provide care of our soldiers, airmen, and their families is sweeping changes, administrative procedures, changes to the authorizations have been made.
Prior to 9/11, the staffing of the Indiana Guard was either one or two deep or non-existent concerning veterans' services to servicemembers and their families. Since 9/11, and the multiple deployment of our Hoosier Guardsmen, we have created a new directorate on my Joint Force staff—Indiana staff. The directorate is called my "Civil Military Affairs Directorate." We are one of the only few States which have caused—created this J9 Directorate to support servicemembers, their families, and employers during pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment.
I gave you a handout of that. It kind of shows you, normally, this would be conducted by our personnel. They have personnel for so many needs, and our personnel on pay and awards and whatnot, and we felt the need to put these key areas under a—one directorate. And you see the different programs. I show the circle. They're all, in fact, to assist the soldier. It's Family Programs, Veterans Assistance—Veterans Transition Assistance, which I have Roger here, who works for me, and Cathy on the Family Programs. Our Ceremonial Unit. We give honors to those that have given the ultimate. Our Chaplain's a very important part of a key component when we have an issue with the family. Our band will—ultimately, everybody wants our band, and we love our band for going away and coming home, but that, too, is linked to those wonderful occasions when linked back to the family, and our Command Historian are all linked to that.
Several other changes in the staffing priority were also made to assist the servicemember through innovative techniques and hard decisions. The Indiana National Guard Relief Fund was established to assist families that incur economic difficulties during deployment. This 501(c)(3) fund was established as a result of many Hoosiers and organizations wanting to contribute financial assistance in many, many ways to our soldiers and our families. The fund assists families during times of economic difficulties as a result of their deployment.
What I had was many officers would tell the Guard's story, and we'd talk to people who'd say, "What can we do, General? Tell me." And we'd get calls from a lady who gives us $20, all the way to Lily Endowment, who has given us over $750,000, and they don't even want me to talk about it. But this is the way we get money in that we can use for issues of families of which we have no means or no way to help them. So I'm very, very proud of that program.
We also have the Stay-Behind Title 10 Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers that are each authorized at each Armory Headquarters. These professional soldiers are very important to the continuity and support to the servicemember during the pre-deployment, deployment, and post-deployment phases. As an example—and it would be very much like there is in the 39th out of Arkansas—we have 17 Title 10 soldiers, combined with military technicians, that man our 28 armories that were vacated by the—by the Brigade going off.
Initially, in the early stages after 9/11, when the unit was deployed, everybody went. There was nobody staying home. And our Armory and the Department of Defense said, "See if you can't keep a certain number on Title 10 status and stay home to work with and assist with the families," and we want to thank you for that. It's—that's a very good thing.
Our number one asset in the Indiana National Guard always has been and will continue to be our people, our soldiers, and our airmen. All the weapon systems, vehicles, and military equipment are absolutely essential to our mission, but nothing is more important than our servicemembers and their families. During these demanding times to provide professional military units for Federal missions in support of our Nation, and provide support for Homeland Security missions, we must have instituted many initiatives to provide support to the servicemember. In many cases, we have re-assigned personnel in order to provide the proper support, if you will, taking it out of hide. However, recently, I am very pleased to say that we have received additional funding and authorizations which enables me to provide this much-needed support to our soldiers and airmen.
One program, the Community-Based Health Care program, CBHCO, is a great program assisting our wounded warriors. In the past, once our soldiers returned, they were quickly demobilized off Title 10, which was bad for our soldiers and their families. The Army CBHCO program allows our wounded warriors to remain on Title 10 close to or at home, work at a military facility while their medical issues are being resolved. The sustainment of this program and others to assist the servicemember is an absolute must. With the exception of the Veterans Transition Assistance Officer, Roger Peterman, which requires at least one more advisor, we are now staffed at a sufficient level to provide the proper support, but I am concerned that these resources may some day be pulled from us. This would be a huge mistake. As we have learned the hard way as a Nation over the years, caring for our wounded and our veterans must continue long after the conflict ends.
I will—I thank you, key Members of Congress, for providing the funding programs for such as the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration program. Programs such as this that care for our soldiers and families prior to deployment, during the deployment, and long after their return is critical to their proper reintegration back into their civilian careers. As a Nation, we have come a long way in taking care of those that are serving our country. I thank all of you for your support you have given to our heroes that have volunteered to serve their State and country. I thank you for the privilege and opportunity to be with you today. I am very proud to wear the uniform and serve in the ranks of these great young men and women, the few who are serving for the benefit of the many of our Nation.
Madam Chairman, this concludes my testimony.
[The statement of Major General Umbarger appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, General.
Major Van Bree, you are recognized.
Major VAN BREE. Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to speak to our soldiers and their family members concerning issues surrounding those.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Could you move your microphone a little closer to you, please?
Major VAN BREE. Due to the large number of our servicemembers deploying recently, the Department of Defense, the Office of Secretary of Defense, and the State of Indiana have all taken notice that the families of our servicemembers need support and assistance. To that end, resources have been delivered, resulting in increased staff and resources in childcare and youth programming, family assistance, family readiness, mental health, and resource and referral through the Military OneSource, through Military Family Life consultants, and other agencies that have stepped up to this challenge.
Indiana National Guard soldiers and airmen are now experiencing the largest deployment, as Major General Umbarger stated earlier. You will find some detailed information in the supplement I provided entitled "Family Programming Capabilities."
In the last eight months, the Indiana National Guard Family Programs staff has grown from a staff of six to now 32 full-time personnel in order to better respond to the needs of the personnel—to the personnel and to their families. This staff serves all servicemembers and their families within Indiana, to include the National Guard, Reserves, active duty, and the retirees from all branches of the military.
The resources we provide during pre-mobilization, mobilization, and post-mobilization are completely invaluable to our customers. These services include, but are not limited to, TRICARE training and assistance, Family Readiness Group planning and program implementation, youth programming, marriage enrichment seminars through the Strongbonds program, free mental health counseling, homecoming support, financial classes, unit rear detachment training, National Guard Relief Fund financial grant requests, as well as a myriad of other services that you'll find on slide six of that supplement.
Financial issues are the number one topic we assist families with when they are facing and/or returning deployment. We assist families with the financial issues through those services that we now have. The Family Assistance Specialist, the Family Readiness Support Assistant, our Military Family Life Consultant, and also our Military OneSource that have just newly been delivered to family programs.
It is critical that we continue on with the funding of these programs in the future years. Our families now trust these services, they now rely on these services, and to take them away would be a huge detriment. Unfortunately, most of these new programs are only funded for 12 to 36 months. We serve as a combat multiplier on the battlefield, as we are able to focus on the families while Combatant Commanders can now focus on their mission. Further, we are a retention tool that far outweighs any cost.
The transition process not over once the servicemember returns from mobilization. Some servicemembers take up to 12 months or longer to fully re-integrate into their family, civilian employment, and/or their community. We take Indiana citizens out of—excuse me. We take Indiana citizens out of our State, away from their loved ones, away from their careers, and send them into a hostile environment. We cannot expect them to return mentally, emotionally, or physically as they departed Indiana. Assisting the servicemembers and their families within this transition process is essential. Some servicemembers are now volunteering for their third and fourth deployments. The revolving door of deployment is a strain for them, as well as their parents, their spouses, their children, and civilian employers, which can effectively be addressed by our programs, Transition Assistance and Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
TRICARE is a part of that transition. While the financial benefit of TRICARE is sufficient, there are many issues within TRICARE that we need to address. Little to no provider coverage is available in some areas of Indiana, as many families travel over 45 minutes to get to their primary care provider. Referrals are cumbersome and takes weeks to months in some instances. Mental health outpatient services are not covered past the six free sessions initially available each calendar year. Claims processing is slow to providers, and reimbursement to families is slow, taking many months in some cases. Lack of providers and lack of updated provider lists are also a key complaint from our family members.
TRICARE is a wonderful option to our servicemembers and their families, but has these—has some logistical constraints. Families transition from their current TRICARE—excuse me—from their current insurance to TRICARE, and back and forth to their civilian insurance, up to three and four times during their military career, and have little time to trip over the logistical roadblocks in their way. TRICARE needs to be more user-friendly in order to reduce the amount of stress the families already endure.
And that concludes my testimony.
[The statement of Major Van Bree appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Major.
Colonel Peterman, you are now recognized.
Colonel PETERMAN. Madam Chairwoman, Members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate this opportunity to testify before you today in reference to the Transition Assistance Advisor (TAA), and Employer Support of Guard and Reserve, commonly referred to as ESGR, as it applies to the pre-mobilization, mobilization, and post-mobilization of our Indiana soldiers.
The TAA program is primarily designed to serve the members of the National Guard and their families. Additionally, we proudly serve the members of all Reserve components, veterans, and their families. The Transition—as the Transition Assistance Advisor, I work to provide a statewide point of contact in assisting members with access to veterans' benefits and medical services. Services are provided at all phases of soldier deployment in conjunction with other Indiana National Guard directors. The TAA also provides assistance in obtaining entitlements through the TRICARE Health System and access to community resources.
The Transition Assistance Advisor works to build a community partnership through the National Guard, Reserves, DoD services, Department of Veterans Affairs, Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, the veterans service organizations (VSOs), and the local communities. The TAA provides communication and coordination between these partners. We provide education and support to all eligible servicemembers and their families. A very important factor of this process is raising the awareness and the understanding of the available State and Federal VA benefits, as it—and the other various community agencies that can assist our servicemembers.
Help is provided to the individual servicemember, ensuring that they are aware of the entitlement programs, access to metal care—mental care and benefits of TRICARE. There are many deadlines that require action, such as post-dental care. servicemembers and their families needing counseling are advised where and how to get the help they need. Information is provided on insurance, such as Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance and Traumatic Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance. The TAA supports the VA and the local communities in helping develop job fairs designed to help servicemembers, veterans, and their families to find jobs. Assistance is also provided to our servicemembers in locating their lost DD-214s.
Transition Assistance is provided during pre-mobilization, mobilization, and demobilization. During homecoming events, information is made available to servicemembers and their families in the form of VA—a form of brochures on VA benefits, educational opportunities, re-employment rights, and other relevant resources. At that point, the re-integration process has started.
At 90 to 120 days, the Seamless Transition is conducted at the local unit or at a community center. Many organizations are brought together to ensure our soldiers receive the information and resources needed to return to several—to civilian life. Representatives at this event include finance, legal, VA benefits, VA Medical Center, Department of Labor, County Service Officers, TRICARE, Chaplain, Small Business Administration, Secretary of State, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, family programs, American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and American Veterans (AMVETS).
The TAA program is successful because we care about soldiers, veterans, and their families. Over 90 percent of the TAAs are veterans or spouses of military members. Many TAAs have worked through the disability process. They have experienced the process and can help guide the servicemember through it. We helped build strong partnerships and coalitions with the VA Service Organizations, family programs, the Department of Labor, and the Employer Support of Guard and Reserve. Major Van Bree and I, the Family Programs Director, work closely on a daily operational level because our work overlaps. We are both serving as members of the Adjutant General's staff.
Now, I'd like to talk a little bit about a volunteer organization in which I serve as the State Chairman. Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves—Reserve is a volunteer organization through the Department of Defense.
The mission of the ESGR is to gain and maintain active support of all public and private employers for the men and women of the National Guard and Reserves. Additionally, this volunteer organization provides education, consultation, and, if necessary, informal mediation between the employer and the employee of Guards and Reserves.
The ESGR is required to inform employers and their National Guard and Reserve employees of their rights and responsibilities to the Uniformed Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act, USERRA, Title 38 of U.S. Code chapter 43. Indiana has 16 school-trained Ombudsmen who serve to mediate the issues between the employer and employee in the military. Currently, Indiana also has 105 volunteers serving around the State.
In summary, the ESGR's goal is to support the American employers who share their employees with the Department of Defense to ensure the national security. ESGR helps employers to understand their vital role that they play in the defense of this country. We develop and promote culture in the American employer and the value of military service of these employers.
Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my testimony. Thank you for this opportunity to speak before you on behalf of the Transition Assistance program and the ESGR. I would now entertain your questions.
[The statement of Colonel Peterman appears in the Appendix.]
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Colonel. Thank you for your good work.
I'd now like to recognize Mr. Boozman for the first round of questions.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you, Madam Chair.
General, the DoD, have you visited with them about adding a Title 10 type—Title 10 days following deployment to the transition program? Have you—is that something that you would like to get done, or—
Major General UMBARGER. You mean for a select few, or for the entire—
Mr. BOOZMAN. For the entire.
Major General UMBARGER. Uh, I've never addressed that. I guess I would say—
Mr. BOOZMAN. Is that something you'd be in favor of?
Major General UMBARGER. No. I don't know that I would be quite for that or not, because what we find, as our soldiers come home—I mean, they're—we're citizens first and soldiers second in the Reserve component. And we'll find, when they get into demobilization process, most of—the majority of them want to go home and see their families and get re-integrated back into the workforce as soon as they possibly can.
I wouldn't mind having a limited ability for those that—and we have some of that. We've got what's called Operation Warrior Trainers, where we have a soldier who's come back from a deployment, and we have two or three wanting to stay on for 12 months or 24 months to train others that are going over, like, at Camp Atterbury, and we do this a lot. So it's just—we have the ability to do that. I don't know that I'd want everyone to stay on Federal service the minute they come home.
Mr. BOOZMAN. How about the—not being able to drill post-deployment for 90 days; would you be in favor of changing that.
Major General UMBARGER. You know what? What I'm in favor of—and I've thought about this a lot, and it differs with Adjutant Generals, certainly. I feel like 90 days should be the option. We will find some of our soldiers would not want to come in. They want to be with their family, and getting back into the system, and they don't want to come back to drill that first 30 days. But we have found most want—they want to come back to the friends they've been to war with. And I think it ought to be their call for 90 days.
And then, what we talked about, that Seamless Transition, on that third month when they come back, that's when we bring them back and we give the awards and we have all of these wonderful groups that are there. So they kind of get a chance to think, hey, you know, the euphoria of getting home is kind of over their back, getting ready to become a citizen. Hey, maybe I can improve myself. So that's a great time for us to have them to have this Seamless Transition program we explained to you, and it works very, very well. But I think it should be an option, not enforced either way; a mandatory, or you can't come back.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Mr. Peterman, the—are the members paid for their TAA classes in—that they appear—that they go through post-deployment? Are their families allowed to come? A lot of—
Colonel PETERMAN. Their families are invited and encouraged to come. What we have found, as the General said, when our servicemembers get home, first of all, they want to go home, and you're standing between them and going home. So, the process, we don't get a lot of them. We see better success at the Seamless Transition, but, being a guy, he doesn't want to admit that he has problems. And what we have found, that if the spouse accompanies them, when he is asked, "Do you have problems or issues," he'll say no. And she says, "Let me tell you about the problems he really has."
Also, from my ESGR experience, where we have employers that are constantly calling us and saying, Hey. Johnny Jones went off. He was a great employee. When he came back, he's a different person. How do we address that? And, so, consequently, we're working on programs to work with the employers on the PTSD. So that's an issue that we see rising every day.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Major Van Bree, you're fighting the battle, it sounds like you mentioned, in trying to get insurance and some of the difficulties there. I know, in our area, it's always a battle making sure that there's providers under that insurance plan when there's nobody there to do it, you know.
I'm worried about divorce; you know, things like that. What do we—what would you have us—what area would you like us, really, to focus on, in the sense that the divorce problems, things like that going on? Are these financial, or are they—
Major VAN BREE. Sir, most of the issues that we have with TRICARE is provider support. I, personally, have had to change doctors two times—or, three times now, because previous doctors might have not taken TRICARE, or they might have taken it and then they decided to pull out of it because they didn't care for the program. That seems to be consistent, I wouldn't say 100 percent, but, obviously, at my level, I kind of get the issues that people below me cannot resolve on their own—on their own level.
Divorce, obviously, takes a lot of—adds to that problem, I should say. But the biggest problem that we have is the provider support and, you know, where to find those doctors and where to find the list of providers in your area, because those lists that are provided are rarely updated, and, if they are—you know, if they are updated, they're just plain inaccurate.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
If you would, it would really be helpful if you would just jot down, you know, some of those things that you come across, as far as the problems in dealings with TRICARE. And if you would let us have that, that would be helpful.
Major VAN BREE. Sure.
Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Boozman.
Mr. DONNELLY. Thank you. General Umbarger, The J9 Directorate. They have great programs in Arkansas and South Dakota, as well, but that model that we use in Indiana, has that been shown to other States, or has—have other States inquired as to that?
Major General UMBARGER. You know, just this past, I think it was three months ago, we went to the Army Guard there at Alexandria, and we presented our home State, saying what we're doing, and this is one of the programs that we presented to General Vaughn and his staff, and—General Vaughn's the Director of the Army Guard—and they really, really liked it.
It's just something we created ourselves, and we felt like we needed—really needed it, and I think there's two other States that picked it up. We have shared it with others to consider. It may not be the answer for everyone, but what I found is, you know, in the Armed—Army, we have J1, personnel; 2, intelligence. So, the J1 is so involved with promotions and awards and all the issues of mobilization and demobilization. So, what you found was Family Programs and all these issues to support the families and problems, it didn't raise to the level, which it should.
That's why we set up a separate directorate, and I think it's—I'm very proud of it. I think it is the way to do it, and we would share it with any State that they might—if they want a copy to show our successes with it.
Mr. DONNELLY. Is there a clearinghouse, for instance, that the 50 different Guards can go to and see best practices in this area or that area, much like you put the components of the J9 together.
Major General UMBARGER. Not that I'm aware of. You know, I've got to be honest. It's almost like, you know, the States are—I mean, we're all independent States, and we kind of run our organizations a little better. But we do share—if there is something like this that is really successful, it's—we meet three times a year as a body, the Adjutant Generals, and that's where a lot of things like this are discussed.
Mr. DONNELLY. And, Major Van Bree, in your testimony, you talk about mental health visits. There are six free visits per year. What happens after those six free visits?
Major VAN BREE. Then you have to pay out of your pocket, sir.
Mr. DONNELLY. Which makes the ability to receive the mental health assistance—
Major VAN BREE. Right.
Mr. DONNELLY. —much more—
Major VAN BREE. What I have right now is, I have two military Family Life consultants who do solution-based counseling. It is not long-term counseling. It's not medical counseling for PTSD or anything such as that. If the family needs long-term counseling, they would need to go through a mental health provider, through these six free visits, and then have to pay out of pocket for the rest, or use a supplemental insurance if they have one.
Mr. DONNELLY. Then, the other question I have for you is, in terms of TRICARE, you know, we'll be hearing testimony about the unavailability of it in certain areas because of doctors not accepting it. What are your suggestions to make TRICARE more acceptable to local physicians or to make it a program that medical clinics want to be a part of.
Major VAN BREE. Well, it does need to be enticing to them to take TRICARE, but I can't speak to what those would be. I don't know if it's a higher pay-off or, you know, financial pay-off for them, or pay-out. I don't know what that would be. I can't speak to that—to the dollars of that, or maybe just more timeliness of paying claims, because that seems to be an issue, too.
If I go to the doctor, and they are not getting their reimbursement from TRICARE, of course, I'm liable because I signed, saying that I will take—accept financial liability. So I'll pay my whatever—$300 or whatever that case may be, until TRICARE pays. So, either TRICARE is going to pay the doctor's facility, or TRICARE will pay to me. And it seems that sometimes it takes too long. It takes four, five, six months sometimes.
Mr. DONNELLY. Okay. And, Colonel Peterman, in regards to the employers, have you found, when it's the second deployment, the third deployment, it becomes much more difficult for that particular employer in regards to the individual.
Colonel PETERMAN. Absolutely. What we find, employers that are involved with the first rotation, it's great. They're very supportive. We have employers that are paying full salaries and benefits to the Guardsmen and Reservists. When it comes to the second—let's say, for the third time—and, as General Umbarger mentioned, there are people who are on their fourth tour—they're saying, "Hey. When do we get a break from this thing? You know, we keep having to replace this individual. We have to guarantee their job," and, in many cases, they have to go out and hire an additional person to come in and to fill in during that year. And, at the end of that year, when that servicemember comes back, then they have a decision to make. And we find, at times, they don't want to give up the person they just hired, even though the law says that they have to.
So there are getting to be more and more concerns and problems with employers based on the multiple deployments.
Mr. DONNELLY. Thank you.
Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Donnelly.
General, what year did you establish the J9 Directory?
Major General UMBARGER. Oh, gosh. What? I'd say over a year ago.
Major VAN BREE. Yes, sir.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. To be clear, I think, Major Van Bree, you mentioned you went from six to now 32 full-time employees. Is this all State funding?
Major VAN BREE. No. None of it.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. It's all Federal funding. Is that all DoD and TAA?
Major VAN BREE. I believe my dollars come from NGT, so where they originate I can't really tell you, ma'am, but they all go through our different contract companies. I have seven other contract—excuse me—seven different contract companies that those dollars go to to provide those services.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Okay. In providing those services, the second panel we're going to hear from are folks who have been, maybe, unaware of all the programs that exist. Can you describe the outreach, either pre-deployment, during deployment, and post-deployment, to spouses and families about the different programs that are available through the Federal or State agencies.
Major VAN BREE. Yes. If you go to the types of support that are provided, it spells out some of the heavy hitters. I won't say that it's—that it is all-inclusive, but it's slide six.
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Yeah. I see that. What kind of outreach do you do?
Major VAN BREE. Well, the marketing and so forth that we do, unfortunately, we do not have the funds to pay for a marketing person. So, what I do is, I take my Family Assistance Specialist and I take my—all my contractors, basically, and have them market their own programs. And, you know, it's a double-edged sword because, while they're marketing, they're not servicing, you know, like they should be, obviously. They're not getting in the weeds with these people.
So, the outreach is going out through the pre-deployment and talking with the units, talking with the family members, conducting pre-deployment briefings, and having them—you know, basically marketing our services to them to tell them what they are. You know, saying, "Hey, dude. These services are now available to you." Now, these are all new within the last eight months, so we've—I mean, we've really been hitting it hard.
And then, during deployment, obviously, we conduct outreach calls. Every 30 days, the family member will get an outreach call to say, you know, "How you doing? What can we do for you today?"
And then, after deployment, we conduct post-deployment briefings to do the Seamless Transition and work with Transition Assistance, ESGR, and all the other DSOs that come in and talk to our servicemembers and their families. And we're willing to integrate into that, as well. And for those old or new families that are not in the deployment cycle currently, we offer all those services and then some in focusing on financial assistance and so forth to try—you know, to kind of intern for TRICARE issues that they have during transition.
Major General UMBARGER. Madam Congresswoman?
Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Yes.
Major General UMBARGER. One thing that, you know, might help us a lot is positions come as part of the supplemental support, you know, in the Global War on Terror. The concern that I have is that when the supplemental—and I know, as a Nation, we'd like to see them go away, but they're not in the base budgets of the Army or of the DoD, and I would be afraid there would be a bill payer, as I said in my testimony, long after, it's hopefully sometime, you know, where our soldiers aren't being deployed. Still, the veteran issues and the soldier issues and the family issues continue. So I'm always asking—I'm afraid the A