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Submission For The Record of Justin Brown, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, Legislative Associate

MADAM CHAIRWOMAN AND MEMBERS OF THIS COMMITTEE:

On behalf of the 2.3 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for your invitation to submit testimony on the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists and Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVER).  

The men and women of our military are leaving our military in large numbers. The cause for their departure is often the prospect of one more deployment for an already battle weary troop. Though these men and women have served honorably, this does not mean they are ready to enter the civilian workforce, yet the core of positive transition is stable employment or education opportunities.

A November 5th Military.com poll illustrates the need for greater assistance for recently departed service members. Of 4,442 military or veteran respondents; eighty-one percent of transitioning military personnel surveyed revealed that they do not feel fully prepared to enter the job market. Of those who feel unprepared: seventy-two percent of respondents feel unprepared to negotiate salary and benefits, seventy-six percent report inabilities to effectively translate their military skills to civilian terms, and fifty-seven percent are unsure of how to network professionally. While our service members may possess the skills to perform the job and the discipline to see work through to completion, they lack the confidence and the knowledge to market their own strengths.

The survey also included 287 recruiters and hiring managers from small- to large-size businesses which demonstrated a need for increased employer outreach and education.  The survey results of this population stated that sixty percent of hiring managers and recruiters reported favorable attitudes toward employing veterans, yet many face difficulties recruiting and hiring from this talent pool. Sixty-one percent reveal they do not have a complete understanding of the qualifications ex-service members offer. Sixty-four percent feel that veterans need additional assistance to make a successful transition into the civilian job-seeking market, with twenty-seven percent citing the need for stronger interviewing skills. Fifty-three percent of employers spend two percent or less of their recruitment advertising budget on targeted military hiring. Due to employers’ lack of understanding and undervaluing veterans as employees many do not seek out these extraordinary Americans.

Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program Specialists

According to the Department of Labor (DOL), Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists provide intensive services to meet the employment needs of disabled veterans and other eligible veterans, with the maximum emphasis directed toward serving those who are economically or educationally disadvantaged, including homeless veterans, and veterans with barriers to employment. DVOP specialists are actively involved in outreach efforts to increase program participation among those with the greatest barriers to employment which may include but should not be limited to: outplacement in Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program offices; DVA Medical Centers; routine site visits to Veterans' Service Organization meetings; Native American Trust Territories; Military installations; and, other areas of known concentrations of veterans or transitioning service members. The case management approach, taught by the National Veterans' Training Institute, is generally accepted as the method to use when providing vocational guidance or related services to eligible veterans identified as needing intensive services.

Local Veterans' Employment Representatives

According to DOL, Local Veterans' Employment Representatives conduct outreach to employers and engage in advocacy efforts with hiring executives to increase employment opportunities for veterans, encourage the hiring of disabled veterans, and generally assist veterans to gain and retain employment. LVER staff conduct seminars for employers and job search workshops for veterans seeking employment, and facilitate priority of service in regard to employment, training, and placement services furnished to veterans by all staff of the employment service delivery system. 

VETS

The mission statement for VETS is to provide veterans and transitioning service members with the resources and services to succeed in the 21st century workforce by maximizing their employment opportunities, protecting their employment rights and meeting labor-market demands with qualified veterans today.

As Per the request of this subcommittee, we have addressed the following four questions.

1.     Do you believe DOL is properly implementing the DVOP/LVER programs with the states?

The VFW believes the Department of Labor has little oversight, and no useful performance measures for the quality of implementation or success of the programs in any particular state. The Jobs for Veterans Act, Public Law (P.L.) 107-288, eliminated the requirement for DOL to review all workforce centers annually which greatly reduced Federal oversight of these programs that already lack in performance measures. Also, the Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) cut funds allocated for oversight and created policy that allowed for only 10 percent of one-stop centers to be reviewed.  In brief, the DVOP/LVER programs have largely been ceded to the authority of the states with exception to funding. The VFW strongly discourages the movement towards funding with no accountability. The VFW believes that the DOL needs oversight; however, we need to create measures that allow proper oversight and evaluation of DOL. Until this occurs the VFW believes veterans will continue to have programs that may, or may not, work. Currently there is no way of knowing that these programs are, or are not, effective regardless of what state they are in.

2.     Under what circumstances should states lose their funding for failing to meet their obligations?

Until DOL is held accountable for their actions, the VFW believes that DOL will have a hard time justifying the cutting of a particular state’s funding. The VFW believes that a complete review of standards needs to be conducted. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has cited multiple occurrences in which DOL has not conducted necessary oversight. One example is that the DOL has not conducted an impact evaluation, as required under Workforce Investment Act, to assess the effectiveness of the one-stop services in which LVERs and DVOPs operate. The VFW believes the impact study needs to be conducted as does an impact survey of the effectiveness of the DVOP and LVER program. When the study is finished DOL and the VA need to create performance measures that hold the states accountable.

Assuming legitimate performance standards were created, the VFW would not support any cuts in the overall funding of the program. However, the VFW would support funds being redirected if individual states were not performing or were failing to meet necessary standards of assisting veterans.

The VFW believes that states ought not to misuse or waste funding that is intended to help veterans find employment. If this does occur, VFW supports the funds being redirected to programs that have proven effective in creating opportunities for veterans. However, there must be some mechanism for states that lose funding to be able to receive the funding should they make changes beneficial for the purpose of implementing a veteran employment program that will meet the minimum standards as outlined by DOL. The bottom line is the individual states need incentive to keep veterans employment programs providing a quality service.

3.     Are part-time DVOPs/LVERs meeting the needs of rural and urban area veterans?

The VFW’s experience has been that Veterans Affairs (VA) Employment Coordinators, DVOPS, and LVERS, primarily serve veterans in close proximity to their physical location of employment offices, regardless of whether they are full-time or part-time DVOPs or LVERs. In many cases, the VFW has been told that close proximity between a veteran and those servicing the veteran, increases the likelihood of employment due to the establishment of personal relationships between the DVOP/LVER and the veteran.  This offers a form of favoritism that could further decrease a rural veteran’s chance of employment.

The VFW advocates for the necessity of a qualitative study to be conducted in every state to assess the necessity of outreach employment services for rural veterans. Such a study would give the individual states information that would better assist them in resource utilization. Overall the rural veteran population stands at around twenty-three percent. However, there is a great deal of information that we do not know in regards to that demographic. Also, are the military members that joined from a rural location returning to the same locale, or are they relocating to metropolises? To answer these questions as a whole would likely create a false depiction of the realties on the ground; which is why the studies should be conducted on a state by state basis, in order to assure vast amounts of veterans are not slipping through the cracks.

4.     What is your organization’s position on how the DOL tracks its performance measures?

According to GAO reports, dating back to 1999, DOL/VETS have completed no oversight that actually assesses the benefit of the LVER/DVOP programs. In his recent testimony before the Committee, the Assistant Secretary of VETS, stated “the enactment of the Jobs for Veterans Act, P.L. 107-288, in November 2002 has resulted in significant improvements in the provision of employment services to veterans and is showing a positive impact on the employment outcomes of veterans.” The VFW wonders what these positive impacts are, and how are we, and Congress, supposed to substantiate such claims? The VFW would like to see a program that performs for veterans, and is not just titled as a veterans program. The lack of meaningful oversight, and impact studies, has left the DOL to its own devices for nearly a decade. While the VFW does not question the intentions of any parties, we also wish to see a veterans program do what it is supposed to do. Without such measures and studies, no entity, not even the DOL, can substantiate that the programs are indeed working as planned. The VFW’s purpose in highlighting these issues is the worry that the program may not be working. If this is indeed the case we would be able to make changes if we knew what the problems were. However, the information available lacks quantitative data, and only leaves all entities, including DOL, with more questions, and more assumptions.

Other Areas of Concern to the VFW

The VFW strongly believes that interagency cooperation between DOL/VETS and the VA needs to increase at all levels. In order for a uniform and coherent employment and training program to be established, it will require long-term goals on the national, state, and local level.  The VFW believes that it is the responsibility of DOL and VA to establish such a program that will provide comprehensive measures of performance. The fact that the organizations have failed to implement such measures leaves the VFW to believe that the programs may not be performing as is being testified to Congress. However, this is no reason to impede the creation of such measures.  Without comprehensive measures, DOL/VETS, and the VA cannot assess or enhance their service to our nation’s veterans.

Information sharing is crucial for VA and DOL/VETS to increase interagency cooperation. DOL/VETS ought to provide the VA with employment information, so that they can be aware of the employment status of veterans who are receiving vocational rehabilitation. The VA ought to provide DOL/VETS with information in regards to the veterans’ disabilities. This would make the DVOPs and LVERs more capable of finding suitable employment, or making the proper accommodations for the veteran, to increase successful placement both for the employer and the veteran employee. However, this information need only be provided for these purposes and clear criteria needs to be drawn up by DOL/VETS, and the VA, for the implementation of such. Clearly, there would be personal information that would not be necessary for employment, and much of the information sharing would be at the discretion of the veteran.

According to Veterans’ Affairs, tonight there will be 1,500 veterans from OEF/OIF walking the streets. In our opinion, both DOL/VETS, and VA, need to step it up, collaborate, and be innovative in their efforts. America and its veterans need a change in the way their veteran employment programs are being managed; this is not to say there are not individuals working very hard to ensure the best for our men and women who have traded their boots for sneakers. We would like to thank those men and women. However, there needs to be increased accountability, and measures that actually measure the causative effect DVOPs and LVERs are having on employment. If the Military.com poll is any indicator, employers and veterans either do not know about the services available to them, or they are not sufficient.

Chairwoman Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, members of the committee, on behalf of the VFW, I would like to thank you for allowing us to submit testimony on this very important issue. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.