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Witness Testimony of Raymond C. Kelley, Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States

MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE:

On behalf of the 2.1 million men and women of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify today. The VFW is pleased that this Committee is examining the function of the Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) program. The Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists and the Local Veterans' Employment Representatives (LVER) staff are intended to be the frontline, community-based force that is the conduit between employers and veterans. This conduit must be viable and effective.

The VETS annual budget is $261 million. They are broken down into six accounts, they are:

  • State Grants program: These grants will support the State Workforce Agencies by employing 2,117 DVOPs and LVERs in FY2012, to provide employment assistance to veterans.
  • Federal Administration: The federal employees are tasked with the oversight of the VETS programs, investigating USERRA and veterans' preference claims and education and outreach regarding USERRA and veterans' preference.
  • Veterans Workforce Investment Program: This is a community-based program that has awarded grants that range from $270,000 to $500,000 per year to provide transition and employment assistance to veterans within their communities. In FY 20 I0, VETS funded 22 programs.
  • National Veterans Employment and Training Service Institute: Operated through the National Learning Center at the University of Colorado, Denver, the institute provides 26 courses aimed at providing job-specific skills training for veterans' employment specialists.
  • Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program: Awards grants in five key areas to help homeless veterans receive job skills training. These programs are community-based. It is expected that these grants will provide funding for 162 programs and assist nearly 27,000 veterans.
  • Transition Assistance Program: In 2010, as a supplement to the traditional TAP program, an Employment Workshop program added a two and one-half day workshop for transitioning veterans and their spouses. The workshop includes procedures for obtaining verification of job skills and experience, civilian workplace requirements, employment and training opportunities and resume, application, and standard forms preparation.

The VFW views veterans' employment as one of its top priorities, and maintains a national resolution providing our support for a "viable and effective veterans' employment and training system" and that the "program must be held accountable for the effectiveness of the services provided." This hearing is just the beginning of determining the effectiveness of the VETS programs and what should be done to improve the employment services for veterans.

The Grants Program absorbs a large majority of the VETS budget, $165.4 million. VFW has identified several issues that have caused the program to lack efficiency and effectiveness.

  • The method that is used to determine the amount of funding that will be provided to each state appears to present a reverse incentive for productivity.
  • Many of the services provided by DVOPs and LVERs are duplicative in nature.
  • Ill-defined job descriptions have caused DVOPs and LVERs to focus on tasks that should be performed by others.
  • Difficulties in oversight and performance measures development and adherence has made accountability difficult at best.
  • Poor outreach to the veteran community impacts awareness and participation.

Funding for DVOPs and LVERs is based on a formula that averages two ratios. The first is the number of unemployed in each state compared to the number of unemployed nationally, and the second is the number of veterans who are employed in each state compared to the number of veterans who are employed nationally. With these ratios, percentages are determined and funding distributed to the states. This method provides less funding for high performing states. VFW regards this funding method as a reverse incentive. If states are being funded and DVOPs and LVERs are hired and retained though this method, it is easy to see that changing the ratio of employed veterans in the state will change the percentage of funding provided though the grant. So, improving veterans' employment will reduce the amount of funding received and jeopardize the number of DVOPs and LVERs a state can employ. This funding method must be reviewed to ensure DVOPs and LVERs are incentivized to assist veterans, and not weigh increased productivity as a threat to preserving their own jobs.

One percent of the grant funding is reserved for work incentives. Current work incentive awards are based on improving the provisions of services in general and not necessarily on employment outcomes. Also, more than one-third of all states will not allow work incentives to go to employees due to state policy restrictions or union agreements. These incentives must be tied to performance and all employees must be included in the incentive program.

The majority of DVOPs and LVERs are co-located with other program providers at state workforce One-Stop Career Centers. There are at least twelve other State Workforce Agency-funded programs that provide priority to veterans, and provide similar and often the same services as the DVOPs and LVERs. The Wagner-Peyser program, which was amended in 1998, provides job-seeker assistance through job referrals, recruitment service with employers, arranging job fairs, identifying job skill gaps, and directing potential employees to training. These services closely reflect many of the services provided by LVERs. The overlap and nearly equal effectiveness of these services is seen when the data from DVOPs and LVERs is compared to the data from the Wagner-Peyser funded program. The Entered Employment Rate (EER) and the Employment Retention Rates (ERR) are within three percent of each other. These programs must be reviewed for overlap of services to ensure finite resources can be better utilized.

Also, VETS and VA's own Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program have a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in place to reduce redundancy. It is unclear to VFW if this MOA has truly reduced duplication or if it is an effective method of providing services to disabled veterans. VFW requests a review and evaluation of this MOA to ensure its effectiveness in reducing redundancy and its efficiency in providing the highest quality job training and placement for our disabled veterans.

The intent of the DVOP program is to provide intensive services for veterans who have employment barriers. These barriers can include disabilities, long periods of unemployment, and incarceration. However, the performance data that was collected in FY2009 found DVOPs provided intensive services only 17 percent of the time. Performance reporting also shows that DVOPs are conducting LVER-type job duties. LVERs are tasked to build relationships with local employers and connect them with veterans who are entering the job market, as well as provide briefings at Transition Assistance Program (TAP) events. But it appears that LVERs are also assisting veterans who should be seen by DVOPs. Both DVOPs and LVERs assist in conducting TAP briefings, a job that is intended for LVERs. VFW suggests a study be conducted to identify the difference between the currently defined scope of work and the actual work that is conducted by DVOPs and LVERs to ensure that time and resources are being used as intended.

Oversight of VETS is critical. The Secretary of Labor must submit his or her annual reports in a timely manner, as specified by Chapter 41, title 38. Also, DoL must also apply performance standards that truly judge the effectiveness of the VETS grants. Without proper standards in place, we will never know what is working and what is not.

A 2007 Employment History Report, conducted for V A by Abt Associates, found that only 21 percent of recently separated veterans used any type of employment assistance from state employment agencies. The majority, 51 percent, used Internet job searches. Veterans must be made aware of the services that are available to them in their local community. If only l-in-5 training or job seeking veterans use DVOPs and LVERs, there must be a large communication barrier between the program and veterans. VFW believes more emphasis must be placed on explaining these services during TAP briefings, as well as in the local communities where the DVOPs and LVERs provide services.

The 227 employees of VETS' Federal Administration have a wide range of responsibilities, starting with investigating approximately 1,500 Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) violations and nearly 700 veterans' preference claims each year. Education and outreach on USERRA and veterans' preference reaches roughly 106,000 individuals, as well. VETS reports they have nearly reached their strategic goal of closing 87 percent of all USERRA investigations within 90 days. However, there is no indication within these strategic goals of the outcome of the investigations. VFW would like to see a USERRA strategic goal that tracks investigation outcomes of suspected employment violations.

VETS also oversees the TAP Employment Workshops and National Veterans Training Institute (NVTD. I will discuss these programs later in my testimony.

The Federal Administration also conducts oversight of the Jobs for Veterans State Grant, the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program, and the Veterans' Workforce Investment Program (VWIP). Their responsibilities for these programs are the same: To make site visits, provide technical assistance on operations of the grants, and to review the grant plans and financial and operational reports. Currently, there are 236 grant recipients, and VETS' strategic goals reflect a 100-percent achievement on all three programs. However, there are no strategic goals that reflect how effective these programs have been. VFW suggests that performance measures be developed to better track success, and to use those results to determine the continuation of existing grant awards, as well as to build best practices for future award recipients.

VFW conducted a phone survey over the past week with grant recipients of the Veterans' Workforce Investment Programs. Many of the grantees also receive grants from VETS through the homeless veterans program as well. In some cases, grant recipients were given as much as $500,000, but only provided services for 70 or fewer veterans. This is a cost per participant of more than $7,000. In other cases it appears that grantees are performing much better, providing services for 200 or more veterans, which brings the cost per participant down to DOL's reported $1,700. However, it is unclear to VFW how reporting of veteran participation within programs that are awarded multiple grants through different VETS' grant programs are separated. Do reports show how many different veterans are helped though which grant or do they report, as an example, 100 veterans being helped though the workforce grant and 100 veterans being helped though the homeless grant, even though it uses the same 100 veterans? When combining the total grant awards just from VETS, organizations received up to $1.4 million dollars. If this is the case, those that are providing services to 300 veterans though the Workforce grant and Homeless grant combined would have a cost per participant of $4, 100 per veterans served, and the number becomes much worse for organizations that assist 70 or fewer veterans. It must be made clear in their reporting of how many veterans are served by each grant.

VETS does conduct annual site visits of all VWIP and HVRP grant recipients. However, there are no strategic goals in place to report on the productivity of the grantees' programs. VFW believes that VETS must establish and report on performance measures that show the productivity of these programs, and funding must be discontinued for programs that are not reaching those performance goals.

The National Veterans Training Institute provides training to veteran employment and transition service providers. There are currently 26 courses offered that can be provided on-site as part of a conference or meeting, or as a stand-alone class. Many of these courses can also be provided online, which reduces cost. These courses are critical to the function of DVOPs and LVERs; however, there is no testing involved ensuring that participants truly understand the information. In a phone interview with NVTI, it was stated that the programs are set up to allow participants to absorb as much information as they can. This concerns VFW. It is obvious that training is important so the best services can be provided to veterans, but without ensuring the information is retained, we are doing our veterans a disservice. VFW believes it is critical that an information retention assessment must be preformed for two reasons: First, to make sure those taking the classes understand the information and secondly, to see if there needs to be improvements in the delivery of the material.

The Veterans Homelessness Reintegration Program (HVRP) provides grants for six assistance categories: general homeless veterans, homeless female veterans and homeless veterans with families, incarcerated veterans, technical assistance, and stand downs. In FY2012, HVRP will grant 162 awards ranging from $83,000 to $750,000. Nearly all of the award recipients in the Veterans Workforce Investment Program also receive grants from HVRP. As stated, it is unclear to VFW whether grantees differentiate between grant awards when reporting the number of veterans assisted through this and other grant awards. Also, there are no strategic goals that report on grantees' performance. The end goal of the HVRP is to provide training and employment opportunities for homeless veterans. VFW suggests that performance measures be established .to identify the number of veterans who gain employment through these grant programs, as well as clarify the number of veterans helped by removing any duplication of veterans served between grant programs.

The TAP program has been expanded and improved with the resent addition of the Employment Workshop program. In FY 2010, VETS was funded and served nearly 130,000 transitioning service members and their spouses at more than 4,000 workshops. VFW suggests that performance measures and post-workshop surveys be developed to ensure positive outcomes for the veterans who use this program. VFW also recommends that this program be expanded to serve more transitioning service members as well as veterans who have already left the service.

VFW believes the intent of VETS is necessary in helping veterans transition from military service to civilian life. However, if the program isn't reaching the outcomes that are intended, we must look at the entire process, evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency and make the necessary changes to provide effective job skills training and career placement of our nation's veterans. There must also be an examination of the duplicative nature of the VETS grants and other DOL grants that are in place to achieve the same goals.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or the members of the Committee may have.