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Submission For The Record of Paralyzed Veterans of America

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and members of the Committee, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) would like to thank you for the opportunity to offer our views

on H.R. 2433, the “Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011;” H.R. 1941, the “Hiring Heroes Act of 2011;” and H.R. 169. The employment challenges facing average Americans is certainly no secret, but the challenges facing veterans, particularly disabled veterans, are even greater.  PVA is pleased to see that the Committee have made employment of veterans one of its highest priorities.  In fact, PVA has taken on veterans employment for severely disabled veterans as one of our primary missions by creating our own vocational rehabilitation program focused on actually getting veterans into a career, not just a job, and keeping them employed. 

Recent statistics about veterans’ unemployment are humbling to say the least.

Unemployment is particularly a problem for veterans who have served since September 11, 2011. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans rose to 12.1 percent at the end of May from 10.9 percent at the end of April. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for non-veterans remained unchanged at 9.1 percent during that same period. Moreover, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans spikes to nearly 20 percent for male veterans ages 18 to 24.

And yet, the statistics for severely disabled veterans are even worse. Currently, approximately 85 percent of veterans with a severe disability are unemployed. The reasons for this are many, ranging from the veterans fear of reentering the workplace to employers simply being unwilling to take on the responsibility of accommodating veterans with special needs in the workplace. With these thoughts in mind, an agenda that focuses on employment for veterans of all ages, whether disabled or not, is critical, and we applaud the Committee for meeting this challenge head on.

H.R. 2433, the “Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011” PVA fully supports H.R. 2433, the “Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act of 2011.” PVA is intrigued by the provision to create a veterans retraining assistance program. We are unclear as to why the program created by this provision would be limited to veterans over the age of 35. While we understand that a significant number of veterans in the age bracket proposed by this legislation (35 to 60) are chronically unemployed, we believe that this program could be beneficial to all veterans. That being said, given the vast array of programs available to post-9/11 veterans (many of whom are younger than 35), we appreciate the fact that the Committee proposes to offer this innovative assistance to older veterans.

PVA appreciates the emphasis placed on improving the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) in this legislation.  However, we recommend that the proposed legislation be clarified to included veterans participating in the Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP).  We have argued over the years that while TAP is questionably effective, the DTAP has been completely forgotten.  In fact, too often disabled service members are not even aware that there is a TAP available specifically for them. Additionally, we believe that the Department of Labor (DOL) has done a poor job of promoting and conducting DTAP.

We also fully support the requirement that participation in the TAP be made mandatory for all service members prior to discharge. While we understand that the legislation includes the caveat that TAP will not be mandatory if a “documented urgent operational requirement prevents attendance,” we believe that such occurrences rarely, if ever,

occur.  In fact, in the past, service members primarily did not attend TAP because their unit commanders placed no importance on the program and did not readily provide them the opportunity to attend. Fortunately, we believe this culture is changing, but it has not been completely overcome.  Given the difficulty that recently discharged service members have achieving meaningful employment, it only makes sense that they be required to participate in TAP or DTAP.

Although PVA appreciates the focus on assessing outcomes of TAP, we believe that this assessment can be taken a step further.  Often, the problem with employment tracking is that it does not follow the individual far enough into the future to ensure that they are retaining employment for an extended period of time. As such, we believe that DOL, the VA, and the Department of Defense should develop an in depth assessment that tracks veterans well beyond discharge.

PVA also supports the provision to reauthorize the demonstration project on credentialing and licensure of veterans. Credentialing standards, such as education, training, and experience requirements, are developed based on traditional methods for obtaining competency in the civilian workforce. As a result, many transitioning military personnel who have received their career preparation through military service find it difficult to meet certification and licensing requirements due to the lack of civilian recognition of military training and experience. However, we are unclear as to why the consultation requirement with “Federal, State, and industry officials” is being changed.

PVA also fully supports the provisions to require state employment offices receiving federal grants to maintain a full-time Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) specialist and a full-time Local Veterans’ Employment Representative (LVER) whose responsibilities are to only serve the employment needs of eligible veterans. Too often, state employment offices take advantage of DVOP and LVER staff to fulfill other requirements not related to serving veterans.  This has long been a complaint of veterans’ service organizations. We appreciate the fact that the Committee has recognized this problem and is now considering legislation to prevent this from happening.

Lastly, we would like to offer our strong support for the reauthorization of the DOL Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP). The HVRP is a valuable program focusing on employment of homeless veterans. This program has achieved wonderful success since its inception approximately 25 years ago.  The HVRP provides help for those veterans with significant problems including substance-use disorder, severe PTSD, serious social problems, legal issues and HIV. The specialized services needed for these veterans and provided by HVRP are often their only hope. The HVRP is perhaps the most cost-effective and cost-efficient program in the federal government. And yet in spite of the success of HVRP, it remains severely under-funded. Reauthorization of this program would ensure that homeless veterans who need a high level of support get it.

H.R. 1941, the “Hiring Heroes Act of 2011” PVA strongly supports H.R. 1941, the “Hiring Heroes Act of 2011.”  With veterans’ national unemployment rate higher than civilian unemployment rates for all age categories, the federal government must assist these men and women as they try to assimilate back into the civilian world.  It is estimated that over 27 percent of young veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed. The “Hiring Heroes Act of 2011” is a proactive effort by the various agencies, VA, DOL, and DOD, to actively assist these newly discharged service members with identifying a career path and obtaining employment they desire. The “Hiring Heroes Act of 2011” is the first legislation of its kind to require broad job skills training for all service members returning home.

Military service to our nation is preparation for civilian work opportunities. Today, most military occupations do not offer that benefit since many military occupational specialties are nontransferable skills.  If all provisions included in the “Hiring Heroes Act of 2011” are fully developed, properly executed, and available to all service members, this effort will provide a strong recruitment tool for all branches of service.

H.R. 169 PVA supports H.R. 169.  Having readily available information pertaining to employment opportunities on the Internet is essential for veterans seeking employment in the 21st Century. This is particularly true of the newest generation of veterans who rely heavily on internet and online social media for information. The internet may be the most valuable tool for veterans who are continuing their education or looking for employment.

While creating a hyperlink directed towards veterans employment is seemingly a trivial step, it highlights the importance of this issue.  Additionally, having readily available and easy access to other important websites such as VetSuccess, USA Jobs, Job Central, and other relevant websites would certainly improve information sharing for veterans seeking employment opportunities. PVA believes that determining the information to be made available through this hyperlink should be coordinated between the VA and the Department of Labor, Veterans Employment and Training Service.  We often hear of the difficulty veterans face when trying to navigate the vast array of information available when seeking employment.  We believe the provisions of this legislation can help ease their search by placing these important links on the main page of the website of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, once again PVA would like to thank you for placing emphasis on one of the greatest challenges facing our nation’s veterans.

Meaningful employment is a vital part of improving transition for service members as well as fulfilling our obligation to the men and women who served in the past. Moreover, employment holds the key to finally overcoming homelessness among veterans. We look forward to partnering with you to put veterans back to work.  We would be happy to respond to any questions that you might have.

Information Required by Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives

Pursuant to Rule XI 2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives, the following information is provided regarding federal grants and contracts.

Fiscal Year 2011

Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation—National Veterans Legal Services Program—$300,000 (estimated).

Fiscal Year 2010

Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation—National Veterans Legal Services Program—$287,992.

Fiscal Year 2009

Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, administered by the Legal Services Corporation— National Veterans Legal Services Program—$296,687.