Witness Testimony of Major General Abraham J. Turner (Ret.), Chair, Veterans Affairs Committee, National Association of State Workforce Agencies Executive Director, South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce
Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley and Members of the Subcommittee, on behalf of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA), I thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony and to appear before you to discuss federal and state veterans’ employment programs, their challenges, and various initiatives.
The members of our Association are state leaders of the publicly-funded workforce development system vital to meeting the employment needs of veterans. This is accomplished through Wagner-Peyser Act (employment services), Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) and the Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVER) programs, as well as other programs and initiatives offered through the publicly-funded workforce system.
NASWA serves as an advocate for state workforce programs and policies, a liaison to federal workforce system partners, Congress and the public, and a forum for the exchange of information and practices. Our organization was founded in 1937. Since 1973, it has been a private, non-profit corporation, financed by annual dues from member state agencies, grants, and private sector alliance funds. NASWA represents workforce agencies in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam.
NASWA thanks the Subcommittee for development of legislation to enhance services available for military members and veterans, their families, and to improve the transition of military members to civilian lives and careers. Helping veterans make a successful transition from their service in the military to civilian careers remains a significant challenge.
I would like to acknowledge the passage of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, which included the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), and thank the Subcommittee for its work on this important legislation. This new legislation addresses a lack of training opportunities for older veterans, and provides much needed resources for these veterans.
Now, I would like to turn to the specific points listed in the Chairman’s Stutzman’s letter of invitation.
1. Describe NASWA members’ efforts to prepare veterans for re-employment and re-training through the Jobs for Veterans State Grant (JVSG) Program as well inform them about benefits available to eligible veterans under the Veterans Re-training Assistance Program (VRAP).
Describe what states have done to contact all age-eligible veterans, who have registered for employment services with the State Workforce Agency, about the benefits available to them under VRAP
NASWA members – the State Workforce Agencies – provide employment and training services through a system of publicly-funded workforce programs across the Nation, with local services provided in almost 1,800 comprehensive one-stop career centers and almost 1,000 affiliate career centers. All employment and training programs funded by U.S. Department of Labor are required under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) to provide “priority of service” for veterans and eligible spouses.
The Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG) allocates funds to states for the Local Veteran Employment Representatives (LVERs) and Disabled Veteran Outreach Program (DVOPs) staff positions. The DVOP positions focus on employment assistance, re-employment assistance, career advice and guidance, case management services, provision of labor market information, and preparation and referral to training and other resources to veterans. The LVER positions focus on employer and community outreach to promote hiring of veterans.
State Workforce Agencies are challenged by higher demand for services and diminished funds. Despite these challenges, over the last five years, State Workforce Agencies substantially have increased the number of job opportunities available on their state job banks. Nationwide an additional 16 million jobs were made available to state job banks at no additional cost to federal and state government, employers, or jobseekers, through the National Labor Exchange (NLX).
An electronic tool, the National Labor Exchange (NLX), is a service offered by NASWA and DirectEmployers Association. Job openings in the NLX do not include duplicates or links to closed jobs; both common problems with other electronic job aggregators.
Moreover, over half of the NLX job openings are with federal contractors who under the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) are required to demonstrate increased veterans’ outreach and recruitment. By providing enhanced access to high quality job openings, the NLX has allowed the state workforce system to meet its priority of service requirements better, and has enhanced the system’s overall ability to serve veterans.
Today, all state workforce agencies, including Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and Guam, have formal NLX participation agreements. On average, the NLX contains approximately 1.1 million jobs daily.
States appreciate the implementation of the Veterans Re-training Assistance Program (VRAP), strongly support the program, and are enthusiastic about promoting the program to veterans as well as employers. However, the regular services provided under the JVSG are often stretched by requirements for VRAP outreach and post-training placement. Some states are concerned about the requirement to allocate resources to market VRAP, assist VRAP applicants to complete Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) applications, respond to VRAP questions, and eventually provide employment services to the participants without additional funds. This seems to be a particular concern of states with large rural areas that must provide these services in remote, sparsely populated areas.
The main difficulty in working with VRAP participants is that the VA will not disclose Social Security numbers of VRAP participants to the workforce system. Social Security numbers are the primary identifier used in the workforce system to register, track and report services. This disconnection between the two systems makes it difficult to track VRAP participants, ensure they are offered the services of the one-stop system, and record outcomes.
State Workforce Agencies and the one-stop career system actively promote the VRAP to eligible veterans. States are strongly supportive of the VRAP and are using a variety of methods to promote the program to veterans, local workforce investment boards, one-stop career centers, and employers. Not all states responded to NASWA’s inquiry, but from the reports received, it appears most - if not all - states have systems in place to contact all age-eligible veterans, who have registered for employment services with the State Workforce Agency.
Specific examples for promoting VRAP are:
· Information regarding VRAP is provided during one-stop, unemployment insurance, reemployment, and veterans orientation sessions;
· A roster of newly registered unemployed veterans is shared with all DVOPs, who then send a letter and information regarding the VRAP;
· Some states send mass e-mails to all Unemployment Compensation for Ex-servicemembers (UCX) claimants;
· Public Service Announcements are used to promote VRAP;
· VRAP flyers, brochures or pamphlets are distributed in one-stop centers and other primary locations visited by veterans;
· Signage regarding VRAP is located in one-stop centers;
· Presentations on VRAP are provided to community, fraternal, business and veterans groups;
· The state’s Management Information System (MIS) is used to determine potentially eligible veterans, then information is sent to each veteran;
· Direct e-mail blasts are sent to all eligible veterans;
· Information is shared in one-stop center newsletters, state or local area newsletters, or veterans-specific newsletters;
· Information regarding VRAP is shared in workshops, job clubs, job or hiring fairs;
· Information about VRAP is shared by Wagner-Peyser Act or WIA staff with all age-eligible veterans; and
· Some states have developed videos or clips promoting VRAP. South Carolina has developed such a video (3 ½ minutes), which is available for viewing at http://www.sces.org/veterans.asp.
2. Describe NASWA’s view of the new policy, either in draft or final form that would significantly change the job descriptions and responsibilities of DVOPs and LVERs that are funded through the Jobs for Veterans State Grant Program.
At several NASWA meetings during the past few months, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) staff leaders have discussed the proposed new job descriptions and responsibilities of DVOPs and LVERs funded through the JVSG program. VETS leaders have also discussed implementing a requirement to lower the number of LVERs and increase the number of DVOPs. However, NASWA has not seen a draft of the expected proposed directive, and hears conflicting information about its contents. The comments in this testimony are based on what NASWA has heard from its members, but states report hearing different information, often varying by regions or states.
NASWA and its members have voiced concerns about certain aspects of the expected new policy. It is expected the new policy directive will be provided to the workforce system through a Veterans Program Letter (VPL) from VETS, and a Training and Employment Guidance Letter (TEGL) from the U.S. Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (ETA). Although these documents are termed “guidance letters,” they are considered policy directives.
Many states have already decreased the number of LVERs and increased the number of DVOPs; for those states the expected refocusing on having more DVOPs than LVERs, this will not be a problem. In some states, the pay level for LVERs is higher than for DVOPs; changing LVER positions to DVOP positions may result in demotions. Some states have bargaining-unit agreements that must be renegotiated before changes are made. Most states do not have a job classification called DVOP or LVER; they often are in a more generic classification, such a job counselor, or employment specialist. Changing job classification requires going through a prescribed process in the state’s classification system, which takes time.
It is expected the policy directive will include a mandate for DVOPs to serve only individuals identified as having significant barriers to employment, which we are told would be clearly defined in the guidance. Some members report the policy directive is expected to mention an “80/20 rule” (the percentage may be different) indicating that DVOPs must spend at least 80 percent of their time providing intensive services and case management to veterans with significant barriers. Another, more likely interpretation for the 80/20 rule (or whatever percentage) expected in the policy directive is that it means only 20 percent of all veterans entering the workforce system can be served by DVOPs. All other veterans are to be served by other local office or one-stop center staff.
NASWA members have identified some concerns with the expected policy directive, but it is difficult to comment on a document that we have not seen and that only has been discussed in vague terms. With the reduction of LVER positions, some members are concerned there may be less focus on veterans when other non-veteran staff is conducting outreach to employers and community groups. Services to veterans in rural areas may be impacted depending on the policy directive. Many veterans prefer - and often would benefit - to meet with a fellow veteran, especially for case management services; this may not be possible under the expected policy directive.
The VETS staff has said the outreach currently performed by LVERs can be accomplished by the state or local “business services team.” Many states agree, but it is important to note that not all states or local areas have business services teams. Without the LVER, often members of business services teams do not include a veteran, someone familiar with veterans’ terms, issues, Military Occupational Codes, transition resources, or specifics of security clearances relating to military experience. Rural areas typically would not have business services teams. States have expressed concerns that with the new policy, recently-separated veterans - a high-profile and targeted group - would typically not be assisted by DVOPs unless they have a significant barrier to employment.
Although vague information has been shared with NASWA and its members about the proposed policy directive, states believe it would have been more efficient to work with NASWA and states in the development of the policy directive before it is announced. Moreover, the timeline U.S. Department of Labor requires of states to implement the needed changes is critical to the success of the directives.
3. Describe what NASWA has done to promote the VRAP program to your members, any outstanding issues that your members have with the implementation of the program, and how your members, or the Department of Labor, are tracking the success of this program.
NASWA has promoted VRAP to its members through presentations and information sharing at meetings of its Veterans Affairs and Employment and Training Committees and to its Board of Directors; conducting a webinar on VRAP; promoting VRAP in its primary publication, “Bulletin;” and providing information on a LinkedIn forum for state veterans’ coordinators.
As indicated earlier, the primary difficulty in the implementation of the VRAP is the VA policy to not share the Social Security numbers of VRAP participants with state workforce agencies. The sharing of Social Security numbers by VA would greatly improve the performance reporting by the workforce system. Performance is tracked through the 9002 reporting system, which is sent to the U.S. Department of Labor by state workforce agencies.
A number of states expressed concern about using a “National list” of demand occupations, which may not be relevant in some geographic areas of a state. If veterans receive training in demand occupations not available in the local area they plan to reside in, the training might not be useful if they cannot or do not want to move. If Congress extends the program, it is recommended to consider more localized demand occupations.
Some states report concerns that veterans need to pay the training facility before the start of training, and the VA at times has been delayed in providing the retraining assistance payment to veterans. If veterans do not have personal resources to cover the first training payment, they may have to postpone or even drop out of the training program.
The VRAP program is administered by the VA, with veterans’ basic eligibility determined by the U.S. Department of Labor. Veterans self-select training courses from an approved list of demand occupations for training provided by an approved training provider. The workforce system has no role in the program – other than to promote it – until the veteran completes training and then the public workforce system has the responsibility to assist the veteran in finding employment. State Workforce Agencies are concerned that the ultimate responsibility for the end result of the training lies with them, with no involvement with the veteran until the completion of training.
In summary, states support the VRAP program and are enthusiastic about promoting it.
Thank you for the opportunity to address these important issues.