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Witness Testimony of George Ondick, Executive Director, Department of Ohio, American Veterans (AMVETS)

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner and distinguished members of the committee, on behalf of the Department of Ohio AMVETS, I would like to extend our gratitude for being given the opportunity to share with you our views and recommendations regarding employment among the veteran population.

AMVETS feels privileged in having been a leader, since 1944, in helping to preserve the freedoms secured by America’s Armed Forces.  Today our organization prides itself on the continuation of this tradition, as well as our undaunted dedication to ensuring that every past and present member of the Armed Forces receives all of their due entitlements.  These individuals, who have devoted their entire lives to upholding our values and freedoms, deserve only the highest quality of care and programs we as a nation can offer them.

AMVETS was founded in order to enhance and safeguard the entitlements of all American veterans who have served honorably, as well as to improve their quality of life and that of their families and the communities where they live through leadership, advocacy and service. Today I will be discussing one the services AMVETS has to offer, the AMVETS Career Center.

The first AMVETS Career Center opened in December of 2000 and subsequently in 2003, AMVETS Career Centers became an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable corporation, incorporated in Ohio to provide career, training and employment related services to Ohio’s armed forces Veterans.

The AMVETS Career Center was initially funded through a $100,000 grant from the State of Ohio. The grant was supported by the late Ohio State Senator Eugene Watts, a highly-decorated Vietnam Veteran who saw the need for the program and was eager to provide this employment resource to Ohio veterans. The grant was used to establish the first AMVETS Career Center at the Department of Ohio AMVETS headquarters in Columbus. Further funding of the Ohio AMVETS Career Center has been provided through the sale of “Charitable Instant Bingo” tickets, which under state law specifies that a portion of the sales profit be donated to a 501(c)(3) organization, in this instance the AMVETS Career Center.

The AMVETS Career Center provides free career services to men and women who have served their country honorably. This includes honorably discharged veterans, active duty military personnel and members of the National Guard and Reserve. No services can be provided without evidence of honorable military service.

The initial concept for the AMVETS Career Center was to provide training and assistance to returning veterans, as they applied for their licenses and/or certifications for the training they had received in the military. We soon discovered that our veterans also needed stop gap training, resume development, interviewing skills, basic computer skills and assistance in other vital areas of the overall employment process.

The AMVETS Career Center originally provided this training through the use of CD-based programs, which quickly proved to be cumbersome and inefficient. We then entered into an agreement with Mindleaders, then the largest provider of online courses in the United States, to provide the AMVETS Career Center with the necessary courses to assist our veterans. The AMVETS Career Center paid Mindleaders for their online services platform, thus resulting in our veterans having off site Internet access to their desired courses through the use of a Web log in and password to receive their desired course of study.

Currently, the veterans utilizing the AMVETS Career Center have access to over 300 online Mindleaders courses. Once registered, students may study at a local career center or any other place that has broadband Internet service – including the comfort of their own homes. The veteran has no out-of-pocket expense for the courses we offer, since the AMVETS Career Center feels the veteran has already paid the price through service to our nation.   

The AMVETS Career Center not only provides career services to veterans, but also provides free career services to the spouses and children of military personnel who are deployed outside of Ohio. These services may continue as long as the service member is stationed outside of Ohio, but must end when the service member returns to Ohio. Family members must provide evidence that the military member is currently on active duty outside of Ohio, which can be done through a number of ways.

However, the AMVETS Career Center does not provide free career services to anyone who is not a veteran or is otherwise ineligible for services. Although some non-AMVETS, local career centers provide fee-based services to non-veterans and the general public, veterans and other eligible personnel always have priority of service at all career center locations.

The AMVETS Career Center is not a government program. Local career centers are located in AMVETS posts. There currently are 60 local career centers, which can be found in AMVETS posts, VA facilities, Ohio Department Job and Family Services (ODJFS), One Stops and in the Summit County Veteran Service Commission. Originally piloted by AMVETS Department of Ohio, AMVETS Career Centers are now located throughout Ohio, Illinois, New York and Tennessee.  

Since receiving the 501(c)(3) tax exemption status from the IRS,  the AMVETS Career Center has been prohibited, by current tax law, from doing any sort of job placement. We had initially provided job search and placement assistance through the ODJFS prior to our tax status. ODJFS has a US Department of Labor (US DOL) grant to employ Veterans’ Representatives (Vet Reps) in order to provide employment assistance. However, the grant mandates that Vet Reps are to only offer their services to veterans who have significant barriers to employment. In 2009, ODJFS Vet Reps provided services to approximately 5,000 of Ohio’s 100,000 unemployed veterans. Veterans who do not qualify for intensive services may request assistance from non-veteran representatives, but they often are referred to the state's online job search site and for the most part, are on their own.

Unfortunately, AMVETS Career Center record keeping for job placement is not available since we are not permitted to do any job placement. However, AMVETS Career Center has served over 5,500 veterans in Ohio alone since our inception in 2000 and has further provided veterans with over 25,000 hours of online employment training. After getting “job ready” at a Career Center, many of our veterans have found employment on their own by doing job searches at an AMVETS Career Center. 

The continued constraints and problems regarding job placement, combined with the Ohio National Guard having a large number of unemployed servicemembers, gave cause for the AMVETS Career Center to initiate the “Ohio Veterans Career Assistance Network,” or “Vets CAN.”

Ohio “Vets CAN” is a partnership between the AMVETS Department of Ohio and the Ohio National Guard. Ohio “Vets CAN” was created as an online meeting place where Veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve can link up with employers who value and support military service to America. The Web address is www.ohiovetscan.com.

Questions I am often asked are, “So why was another Web site created, and why do we need AMVETS, and why don’t we use something that already exists?” The answers to these questions are quite easy. First, Major General Wayt (at that time the Adjutant General for the state of Ohio) asked AMVETS to create a program that would address the employment needs of the Ohio National Guard. Second, AMVETS Career Centers already provide no cost training to veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve, therefore making a perfect match of meeting these needs. Finally, there are no employment sites that exclusively address the needs of veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve.

 At www.ohiovetscan.com, Ohio Guard members can identify resources and organizations that can help improve their civilian career opportunities or find employment.

Ohio “Vets CAN” is similar to a mini “Monster.com” without the fees. Employers can register and post for free. In doing so they can access the cream of the crop, potential employees who are well trained, accustomed to long hours, show up on time, are loyal, and are patriotic. Guard members and our veterans know the meaning of ‘an honest day’s work’ and have a track record of integrity, sincerity, accountability, responsibility and trustworthiness.

There are some limitations as to who we will allow to post on this site. We are limiting our services to veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve and the active duty component.

On the employer side, we limit services to military-friendly employers. Military friendly employers are defined as employers who understand the commitment to military service, practice flexibility, and unconditionally support Guard members in the performance of federal, state and community missions. Military-friendly employers recognize in veterans a high level of personal maturity, and understand veterans are men and women who often have tested their mettle in mission-critical situations that demand endurance, stamina and flexibility.

In October 2010, the Ohio unemployment rate was 9.6 percent. The unemployment rate for veterans was 11.1 percent, with the rate for women veterans even higher at 11.9 percent. This means nearly 100,000 of Ohio's 900,000 veterans are unemployed. For recently-separated veterans, even after two years, their unemployment rate was 16 percent, far higher than the overall rate. For young (18-24 year-old) Veterans, the news is particularly grim. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in April 2010 that the unemployment rate for young Veterans was 30.7 percent. This presents a large number of young unemployed Veterans in Ohio, given that over 17,000 of Ohio's National Guard and Reserve troops, plus 15,000 active military troops from Ohio, are 24 or younger.

For the National Guard, large numbers of unemployed troops present operational readiness and troop safety issues. Commanders speak of unemployment leading to housing problems, an inability to pay bills and stressed relationships - all impacting a soldier's mental health and ability to stay focused on military tasks. Since 2001, the Ohio National Guard has lost more troops to suicide than to combat. National statistics reflect this, with the American Association of Suicidology reporting that the suicide rate for the unemployed is two to three times higher than the rate for the general population.

To help us address the needs of our unemployed and underemployed veterans, we applied for and won a State AmeriCorps grant. The manpower provider in the grant will assist us in reducing unemployment for veterans, includes helping veterans better market themselves to employers and eliminating what employers see as barriers to hiring veterans. Assisted by AMVETS Career Center (ACC) staff, AmeriCorps members conduct outreach and recruitment activities to help veterans become aware of available services. This includes outreach to ODJFS one-stop centers, county veterans’ service commissions, Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers and homeless veteran programs.

Recruitment is followed by pre-enrollment assessments that enable AmeriCorps members to evaluate veterans’ skills and barriers to employment and assess their employability needs. Results of the assessment allow members to enroll veterans in ACC services or refer them to supportive services from other organizations.

For veterans receiving ACC services, the assessment is followed by the creation of a Career Development Plan (CDP). The CDP documents the skills and interests of the veteran, identifies skill deficiencies and other barriers that prevent them from achieving desired employment and income needs and describes activities and follow-up needed to ensure the veteran achieves his/her career goal.  The AmeriCorps member may refer the veteran directly to job development and placement services, where the goal is to place the veteran into employment that allows him/her to become self-reliant. The services may involve job search assistance or individual job development that matches a veteran with a specific employer and/or job.

The member also may encourage the veteran to participate in ACC core program services, such as:

  • Formal career assessment and exploration assistance.
  • Training that addresses vocational skills deficiencies, including classroom training, employer provide on the job training, vocational education services or apprenticeships.
  • Credentialing assistance that helps a veteran obtain licenses or certifications that document work-related skills and abilities.
  • Developing tools such as resumes, cover letters, job search techniques and interviewing skills that help veterans better market themselves to employers.
  • To help overcome employer resistance to hiring veterans, AmeriCorps members participate in employer outreach such as workshops, career fairs and presentations to business groups. Information is provided about hiring incentives and tax credits, on-the-job training funding and veterans’ training programs. Efforts are made to match veterans with specific employer needs, with particular attention paid to businesses that are legally required to show veterans’ preference.

Furthermore, during the first six months of the grant, the AMVETS Career Center achieved the following:

  • Target of 250 veterans helped; actually helped 553
  • Target of 85 veterans in case management; actually have 115 veterans in case    management
  • Target of 25 veterans placed into employment; actually have placed 32 veterans
  • Target of 50 veteran-friendly employers identified; actually have recruited 70 employers

Moreover, in order to continue the work of the AMVETS Career Center, we have applied for a National AmeriCorps Grant that will provide us with additional manpower to further expand our program to veterans in need of our services. The grant is critical to the program, as this economy has caused a significant reduction in our primary source of funding, Charitable Instant Bingo. Also, recent changes to state regulations of Charitable Instant Bingo have caused a reduction in the available charitable dollars.  

The average cost to the state of Ohio to provide similar services through the US DOL grant is about $1,500 per veteran. This is in sharp contrast to the cost of services AMVETS Career Centers can deliver for only $250. We believe this is due to the broad network of volunteers and the partnerships and resources uniquely available to the veterans’ service community. With all the recent discussion of fiscal responsibility, AMVETS Career Centers just make sense. With just a minimal investment, we can expand and advertise our program to help more veterans reenter the workforce and start to pay taxes again, rather than relying on government services.

Chairman Miller and distinguished members of the committee, this concludes my testimony. I would like to again thank you for inviting me to participate in this very important hearing and I stand ready to answer any questions you may have for me.


AMVETS
Lanham, MD.
May 26, 2011

The Honorable Representative Jeff Miller, Chairman
House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
335 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Miller:

Neither AMVETS Department of Ohio nor I have received any federal grants or contracts, during this year or in the last two years, from any agency or program relevant to the June 1, 2011, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing regarding “Putting America’s Veterans back to Work”. However, the Ohio AMVETS Career Center has received a $260,000.00 AmeriCorps grant. The grant monies are for the 21 AmeriCorps members who assist us in promoting and working the Veteran Employment Programs of the Ohio AMVETS Career Center. No portion of the grant is retained by any Ohio AMVETS entity; the indirect portions of the grant are retained by the State of Ohio.

Sincerely,

George Ondick
AMVETS Department of Ohio
Executive Director