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Witness Testimony of John M. McWilliam, Veterans' Employment and Training, Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor

Madam Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this Subcommittee to discuss the role of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) in providing transition assistance to our returning servicemembers.

The mission of VETS is to provide veterans and transitioning servicemembers with the resources and services to succeed in the 21st century workforce. One of the most important ways that we meet that mission is by providing employment workshops to separating active, Guard, and Reserve servicemembers as part of their transition to civilian life. Our services are provided through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP).

TAP is a Department of Defense (DoD) program that partners with DOL, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Department of Homeland Security. TAP has four components:

  1. Pre-separation counseling – this is mandatory for all transitioning servicemembers and is provided by the military services;
  2. TAP employment workshops – these are voluntary on the part of the transitioning servicemember and are administered through DOL and its state partners;
  3. VA benefits briefing – these briefings are also voluntary and administered by the VA; and
  4. Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP) – also voluntary and administered by the VA.

Historically, 60% to 65% of active duty transitioning servicemembers have attended the TAP employment workshops. This has risen from a 50% participation rate in 2001. As a result of the Global War on Terror Task Force, the DoD has established a goal of 85% attendance.

Since 1991, when DOL began providing employment workshops pursuant to section 502 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1991 (P.L. 101-510), over one million separating and retiring military members and their spouses have been provided employment and job training assistance and other transitional services. DOL was further directed to provide these services at overseas locations by section 309 of the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-183). Before this law took effect, VETS began facilitating TAP workshops at overseas military installations where, by previous interagency agreement, the DoD had provided TAP workshops since the program’s inception. VETS continued to expand additional overseas sites and we are extending efforts to provide workshops whenever requested to those Guard and Reserve units returning from the Global War on Terror. We are currently conducting TAP employment workshops at 55 sites overseas including Germany, Japan, Italy, Korea, Guam and the United Kingdom. Our mission is to provide TAP at every location requested by the Armed Services or National Guard and Reserve Component.

Employment Workshop Overview

DOL is authorized by Chapter 58 of title 10, U.S. Code, to assist the DoD and VA in providing transition assistance services to separating servicemembers and their spouses. The role of VETS in this effort is to conduct employment workshops based on projections made by each of the Armed Services and the Department of Homeland Security for the U.S. Coast Guard. In the United States, Disabled Veteran Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists and Local Veterans Employment Representatives (LVER) lead most employment workshops. In some cases, due to the distances from some State Employment Offices to the military installations, and to assist with the rapid growth of the program, contract facilitators were added in early Fiscal Year 1992 and federal staff in Fiscal Year 1996. In overseas locations, contract staff leads most workshops.

To maintain a quality of service delivery and ensure uniformity between locations, all workshops use a common workbook and program of instruction. In addition, all facilitators, whether DVOP/LVER, federal staff, or contract, are trained and certified by the National Veterans’ Training Institute.

In Fiscal Year 2007, over 146,000 separating military personnel and spouses were trained in 4,716 employment workshops at military installations across the nation and worldwide. In Fiscal Year 2008, VETS plans to provide employment workshops to over 150,000 servicemembers and spouses at military installations in the United States and overseas.

The VETS employment workshop is a comprehensive two and one-half day session where participants learn about job searches, career decision-making, current occupational and labor market conditions, resume and cover letter preparation, and interviewing techniques. Participants are also provided an evaluation of their employability relative to the job market and receive information on the most current veterans’ benefits. Components of an employment workshop include: career self-assessment; resume development; job search and interview techniques; U.S. labor market information; civilian workplace requirements; and documentation of military skills.

Reserve Component (RC) and National Guard (NG) Employment Workshop

Global military commitments have necessitated a mobilization of Guard and Reserve members that is unprecedented in modern times. The longer mobilization periods result in these servicemembers now being eligible for veterans’ benefits, including TAP. The employment workshop is available for most servicemembers at one of the 215 transition offices located on military installations in the United States as well as overseas locations.

However, Reserve and Guard members usually transition at fewer locations, referred to as demobilization sites. Typically the demobilization process is rapid, taking a matter of days once the servicemembers arrive back in the United States from overseas. For example, the Army standard is to demobilize units in five days, and it is not uncommon for military installations to get two or fewer days advance notice before returning troops arrive. During demobilization, servicemembers may be expected to participate in as many as 18 separate briefings or activities such as physical examinations at various locations. This leaves little or no time for a full two and one-half day employment workshop. Nevertheless, we have found that many Guard and Reserve servicemembers would benefit from such transition assistance. Our State Directors are working directly with the reserve and guard commanders to make special arrangements following demobilization in order to present a modified TAP employment workshop to Guard and Reserve servicemembers.

Based on requests from Reserve Component Commanders or Adjutant Generals and through coordination with our VETS’ state directors, TAP employment workshops in some form have been conducted in most states.

DOL State Directors have contacted each state Adjutant General to offer outreach and assistance to returning members of the Guard and Reserves during the demobilization process. We offered to tailor the workshops to the identified needs of the transitioning Reserve and Guard members.

Since 2001 VETS has provided transition services to over 146,000 National Guard and Reservists. These transition services range in size and content from mobilization/demobilization briefing to the full scale TAP employment workshop. They are provided in 43 states and the District of Columbia. In some states National Guardsmen and Reservists have been allowed to attend the regular TAP for Active Component servicemembers. The services provided to the Guard and Reserve are tailored to the needs and requests by the DoD.

Minnesota has been in the forefront of providing the needed transitional services to Guard and Reservists and has developed a program that is currently being reviewed for replication in other states. In early 2005, the state of Minnesota implemented the Transition Assistance Program to not only assist the contingent of active duty servicemembers within the state, but also, the National Guard and Reserves. Realizing the Guard and Reserve components need the same quality of transition assistance that their active component peers receive, emphasis was placed on coordination through the state’s Adjutant General (AG) down through individual units for implementation of the program as a part of the overall “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon” Reintegration efforts. The mini-TAP workshops or MN/TAP is a program deigned primarily for the Reserve and Guard servicemembers who are limited in time to attend a full TAP. MN/TAP focuses on job search, resume and applications, interviewing, and follow-up.

To meet the transition needs of the National Guard and Reserves, in FY 2007, DOL directed the National Veterans’ Training Institute (NVTI) to develop a modular version of the TAP employment workshop. The traditional TAP employment workshop was turned into a 15-module menu that Reserve/National Guard commanders may choose from in providing these services to their unit members. This training includes a mandatory module that covers local labor market information, USERRA, the One-Stop Career Center system, small business opportunities, and the risks of homelessness. The other 14 modules consist of the current TAP employment workshop curriculum broken down into logical and connected blocks of instruction. This is not a new or separate curriculum for the RC/NG; rather it has been packaged to better serve the Reserve/National Guard community

Indiana Programs

I have provided an overview of what is being done to assist those servicemembers transitioning from the military to civilian life. I would now like to focus on what we are doing in the state of Indiana. Recognizing the need to focus on and deal with the problems and issues military members often face several months or years following military service, many agencies came together to create the “Hoosier Veteran Seamless Transition Program”. A formal Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2006 by the Governor, Joint Forces Headquarters, Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs, US Department of Veterans Affairs, Indiana Department of Workforce Development , US Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, National Guard Family Assistance, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves, Hoosier Veterans Assistance Foundation, TRICARE, American Legion, American Veterans, Disabled American Veterans, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. The purpose of the collaboration is to ensure that Indiana National Guard members, after deployment, are provided all necessary services and to help these returnees with the multitude of applications and benefits.

Camp Atterbury is one of two major demobilization locations in the Chicago Region. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development has stationed a Local Veterans Employment Representative full-time at Camp Atterbury to participate in all demobilization briefings, to provide mini-TAP workshops, and to provide individualized employment services to those Guard members and Reservists that are demobilizing. Since January 1, 2008, the LVER has provided briefings to almost 900 demobilizing servicemembers and provided mini-TAP classes to over 300 servicemembers. Services provided by the LVER include:

• Information on the One-Stop Career Centers, DVOPs, LVERs, Unemployment Compensation, and the services available through the One-Stop; and
• Completion of a referral form for all demobilizing troops indicating a desire to receive employment assistance. These forms are forwarded to the appropriate VETS’ State Director (DVET) for action.

An official TAP site is in the process of being established at Camp Atterbury for active duty soldiers. These servicemembers currently travel to Ft. Knox to attend TAP. It is projected that the Atterbury TAP site will be operational in July 2008.

In closing, I again thank you for allowing me to address you today on this very important issue and program. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.