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Opening Statement of Honorable Corrine Brown, Acting Ranking 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.