Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Mr. Al Garver, Executive Director, Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States
Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano, distinguished members of the subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, on behalf of the 414, 000 enlisted men and women of the National Guard and the 47,000 active members of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States (EANGUS), thank you for the opportunity to testify today.
I’d like to inform this committee, in the interest of full disclosure, that while my civilian job is Executive Director of EANGUS, I am a still-serving citizen-soldier myself, with 30 years of service and counting---8 years active duty Air Force, 17 years in the Air National Guard, and now five years in the Air Force Reserve, currently with the rank of Chief Master Sergeant, and my service includes an 8-month tour in Iraq.
I’d like to begin by thanking the members of this subcommittee for your support over the past several years, and for your concern with the well-being of our citizen-soldiers that serve in our 50 states, 3 territories, and District of Columbia. Much has been done recently to give these soldiers and airmen the resources they need to improve their quality of life. We are especially thankful for recognizing their Title 32 service and making it count toward their Post 9-11 G.I. Bill benefits. More than 140,000 Guardsmen now qualify for those benefits, and their increased education levels will surely translate into more secure and better-paying jobs in the private sector. We are also thankful for the medical benefits offered under the Tricare Reserve Select Insurance program. There are nearly 50,000 National Guard members, most with families, that are currently covered by this benefit. I happen to be one of them. I pay a premium of $195 per month, which covers myself, my wife, and five dependent children. I’ll circle back to the significance of those numbers in a few moments.
Since 9/11 more than 600,000 soldiers and airmen of the National Guard have been mobilized and deployed overseas; when you account for both Guard and Reservists - the number balloons to more than 1 million individuals. Over 50% of the members of the National Guard are now combat veterans – these men and women are no longer “weekend warriors” – but battle tested citizen-soldiers, many of whom are returning home to find their only option is the unemployment line.
It has been estimated by some that 20 percent of returning National Guard soldiers and airmen are unemployed. However, if you look at some anomalies in those figures the actual percentage may be slightly less, due to the fact that many of the younger returning members in the 18-24 year old range, were in high school or college prior to deploying and did not have jobs waiting for them or are continuing their education. However; even if you take into account a percentage of returning veterans who are resuming or beginning their educational journey, the number of unemployed National Guardsmen is still significantly higher than the national average.
We truly believe the vast majority of employers want to hire veterans, and that is one reason why the national unemployment rate for all veterans is 7.0%, yet the National Guard unemployment is estimated to be at least double that number. What is the difference between hiring veterans and hiring those in the National Guard? Both veterans and Guardsmen have the same or similar leadership skills, are hard workers, team players, dependable, and are highly trainable. Additionally, they have earned all of those skills and more under some of the most difficult situations known to man - during combat - when making a mistake doesn’t mean you miss a sale, but you lose a life. If the skill sets are the generally the same, then why do we have vastly different unemployment percentages between the two groups?
One major reason we believe that National Guard unemployment is significantly higher than general veteran unemployment is the current operations tempo of the National Guard. Prior to 9/11, employer support of the National Guard and Reserves was extremely high. Since 9/11, that support has become stressed with the increased call-ups of the National Guard for both natural disasters and overseas operations. The men and women of the National Guard have been called up multiple times, some more than others depending on their skill set. Traditionally, it has been DoD policy to mobilize Guard and Reserve units no more than one out of every five to six years, but there are some cases, since 9-11, where Guard and Reserve units have been mobilized for 48 months in a 60 month time period. However, the average mobilization is more along the lines of 12-18 months in a 60 month period.
This policy is having a negative impact on the employment prospects of National Guard and Reserve members. Employers are having a hard time dealing with the loss of their employees during 6-12 month deployments every few years. Given the opportunity to choose between two potential employees—a veteran and a current member of the National Guard—which one would you pick if you were a small business owner? Both applicants have similar backgrounds and skill sets, but one is likely to be absent on military duty one weekend a month and two weeks a year at a minimum…in addition to a long deployment looming in the near future. It may not be the politically correct or even the right thing to say, but you can empathize with the challenge this poses to small business owners. All things being equal, many employers would likely pick the veteran who has already fulfilled their military obligations and is not likely to be called back to duty.
The previous example applies more to small and medium-size businesses rather than large companies such as Wal-Mart who just announced their commitment to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years. There are many things that Congress and industry can do immediately to help increase National Guard employment.
Allow Small Business Owners to pay for TRS premiums for their Guard-Reserve Employees
One proposal that might improve the prospects of a Guardsman or Reservist to gain an advantage with small business owners, would be to encourage the businesses to provide a stipend that pays for their Tricare Reserve Select policy and raise awareness that this is an option available. In doing so, the troops would be getting some of the best coverage available, and the business owner would reap a significant cost-savings by not having to pay for the current health-care policy they offer. This might save a small business owner anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 or more per year, and would be an immediate incentive to hiring Guardsmen and Reservists. Best of all, the troops are already entitled to purchase these policies, so no new program has to be developed or paid for by Congress or the individual states.
National Guard Federal Hiring Preference Points
Currently, veterans receive hiring preference points from federal agencies, and this hiring preference is not limited to veterans alone. It is also granted to the spouses of an unemployable veteran, the unmarried widow or widower of a veteran, or the mother of a deceased or disabled veteran. However, many National Guard members do not have the requisite Title 10 experience to be recognized as veterans. Many serve their country faithfully in homeland defense and disaster relief missions here in the CONUS, yet are not eligible to receive any federal hiring preference points.
The men and women of the National Guard posses both civilian and military skills that make them fantastic candidates for many positions, but they are applying for those jobs with one hand tied behind their backs. With the increased ops tempo of the National Guard and Reserves for the foreseeable future, the high unemployment rate amongst their ranks is likely to continue, and it would be beneficial if federal agencies addressed this fact by awarding separate preference points to serving members of the National Guard and Reserve. By not recognizing their service and assigning veterans preference points, the federal government is, in effect, discriminating against some National Guardsmen; as if they are not equal to troops who have served on 180-days or more of Title 10 service. No employer should discriminate against the hiring of members of the Guard, especially the federal government.
Making the Transition Assistance Program (TAPS) and Transition Goals Plans Success (Transition GPS) work for the average member of the Guard and Reserve
The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) provides pre-separation services and counseling on a number of transition-related topics to those members of the Armed Forces that are separating from service. TAPS not only provides assistance on general topics such as healthcare and financial planning, but it also has many specific career centric focuses as well. Separating military members can also take advantage of a three-day employment workshop or a veteran’s benefits brief organized by the VA. However, TAP services are provided only at military installations, which often times are not readily accessible National Guardsmen, especially for members of the Guard and Reserves from rural portions of the country.
The TAP program was recently revamped as part of the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 and is now called Transition Goals Plans Success (Transition GPS). Due to the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, TAP is now mandatory for nearly all separating military personnel. This mandatory five-day seminar is supposed to give transitioning service members an individualized assessment of what various civilian career paths are good matches to their military skill set.
However, for members of the National Guard, this mandatory participation only applies when Guardsmen come off active duty following a mobilization. This means that thousands of Guard members will not attend the Transition GPS program when they transition out of the Guard, because the existing DoD model is designed and programmed around exiting active duty, not part time duty. Realistically, it will be very difficult to get a rurally located National Guardsman to travel hours away to attend a five-day TAP program before he/she leaves the Guard because there are not adequate financial resources for that. Conversely, it would be cost-prohibitive to send a mobile TAP team to rural armories for a handful of people.
The Transition GPS program seems to be an effective way to help those separating from active-duty. However, despite its good intentions, it is not effective for many traditional members of the National Guard and Reserves. So what else can be, or is being done, to help those serving in the National Guard and Reserves? There are many great programs being pursued by private industry and non-profit organizations. Programs like VetJobs.com and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program.
US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program
Since its launch in March 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program has been working to help veterans, transitioning service members, Guard and Reservists, and military spouses find meaningful employment. To do so, Hiring Our Heroes has leveraged the U.S Chamber’s network of 1,600 state and local chambers of commerce and collaborated with other strategic public, private, and nonprofit partners to help create a movement across America.
In less than two years, Hiring Our Heroes has hosted more than 420 hiring fairs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. 14,100 veterans and military spouses have been hired as a direct result of these fairs, many of whom are or have served in the Guard and Reserve. Businesses across America have also stepped up to participate in their Hiring 500,000 Heroes campaign launched a year ago. The goal is the engage both small and large businesses to commit to hire half a million veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014. Thus far, the campaign has secured 212,000 commitments and confirmed 93,000 hires.
One example is Micahel Zetts, who served in the U.S. Army and the Minnesota National Guard from 2003 – 2010. After his second deployment to Iraq, Michael was ready to transition into a new career. He used his GI Bill to go to school for his associate’s degree, believing that the degree would better prepare him for the job market. After school, however, he found himself walking from job fair after job fair for almost a year without any offers or leads. Michael told Hiring Our Heroes: “I had been to other career fairs before [and] it seemed like being a veteran was a hindrance. I had that experience plus two associate degrees. People were either looking for something fresh or someone with a lot of experience. I fell in between. At Hiring Our Heroes, I felt like people were really talking to me. Afterwards, I was pursued by a few opportunities.” After attending a March 2012 Hiring Our Heroes career fair in Columbus, Ohio, Michael accepted an offer from Advanced Language Access, Inc. and has offered to help Hiring Our Heroes at upcoming job fairs in Columbus, so that he can help others like him find veteran-friendly companies that understand the skills a veteran can bring to their company.
While hiring fairs remain a top priority of the Hiring Our Heroes program, it is evolving to address the systemic employment issues facing veterans, members of the National Guard and Reserves, and military spouses. Hiring our Heroes is developing several online tools that will serve as valuable resources for the talented men and women who have served our country.
Although the past 10+ years of deployments and increased ops tempo of our National Guard citizen soldiers have strained the relationship between many employers and military employees, there are still many other companies that remain Guard and Reserve friendly. Programs like Hiring Our Heroes are acting as a bridge between Guard friendly employers and the unemployed men and women currently serving in the National Guard. With another million men and women expected to leave the military in the next five years, we must all continue to raise awareness of this issue as we work every day to hire our heroes.
Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve and Hero 2 Hired Program
The DoD established the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) agency 40 years ago with the mission of maintaining employer support for Guard and Reserve service. ESGR advocates for pro-Guard and Reserve initiatives, recognizes outstanding employer support of the Guard and Reserve, helps to mediate conflicts and potential conflicts between service members and employers, and to bring increased awareness for Guard and Reserve laws and legislation such as USERRA. The core of ESGR’s mission is to show that Guard and Reservists can, do, and will bring their military skills of integrity, global perspective, and proven leadership to a civilian workplace. EANGUS is proud to be a partner of ESGR and we are encouraged by the fact that they are represented here today at this committee hearing.
One ESGR program that we would like to highlight, is their Hero 2 Hired (H2H) program. Launched in December 2011, H2H is a comprehensive employment program that helps to highlight the unique skills and job needs of Reserve Component members. The H2H program is helping to reduce the number of unemployed National Guard and Reserve members by simplifying their job search while also allowing military-friendly company’s access to Guard and Reserve job seekers.
H2H currently has over 108,000 registered job seeker profiles, nearly 15,000 employers registered, and as of March 3, 2013 there are an estimated 3.7 million job openings available on the H2H website. Between October 2012 and February 2013, H2H was able to assist 5,512 veterans, Guard and Reservists, and military family and spouses in finding employment.
Southwest Truck Driver Training
Job fairs and career web pages are tremendous ways to get Guard and Reservists in touch with military-friendly employers. But there are also many military-friendly employers who go out of their way to help our military job seekers. Once such company is Southwest Truck Driver Training (SWTDT) school in Tucson, Arizona. Southwest started in 1999 as a true small business, with a beginning staff of a handful of family members and friends – it now has built its reputation throughout Arizona, Nevada, and the local communities in which it operates.
Southwest has a 92% placement rate for their graduates and goes out of their way to ensure that Guard and Reservist students are placed with military-friendly companies that understand their unique needs, monthly drill and training schedules, and possibility of immediate call-ups. If Congress and the commanders of our National Guard and Reservists are serious about tackling unemployment problems, we need to look at all opportunities, including the vocational trades, where there are immediate job openings and gainful employment can be obtained. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 300,000 new truck drivers will be needed each year for the next 10 years to meet America’s demands.
During the 112th Congress, the Military Commercial Driver’s License Act of 2012 was signed into law. The Military CDL Act gave active duty military personnel, military reservists, members of the National Guard, and others more flexibility in obtaining a Commercial Driver’s License, in an attempt to help them pursue job opportunities immediately after leaving the service. The legislation allowed them to obtain a CDL in either the state where they serve or where they received their military training, regardless of whether it is their state of permanent residence. The legislation was endorsed by the American Trucking Association, Owner-Operator and Independent Drivers Association, and many Military Service Organizations including EANGUS.
The Military CDL Act was a great first step, but military truck drivers need some additional skills and training to be able to effectively operate a tractor trailer. Currently the DoD does not have a training program that trains service members to operate civilian tractor trailers. Companies like Southwest are able to assist military truck drivers gain those additional skills, to include driving ten-speed manual transmission trucks, how to properly enter information into mandated log books, and other service standards. This type of training costs between five and six thousand dollars and qualify military job seekers to find nearly immediate employment with a salary of 40-80 thousand dollars a year. However, the vocational trades are often times marginalized by chains of command, which is counterproductive to putting unemployed service members in touch with companies who are offering gainful employment.
Veterans use CDLs and vocational trades everyday to work while attending post-secondary schooling. Many services members use the industry as a short term tool to makes ends meet while they are completing their education, but a large percentage also continue in the career field. It is not an industry for everyone, but it is a respectable option for service-members unemployment woes.
Consider Exemptions for Military Technicians
In closing, I’d like to discuss something that can be done immediately to save the jobs of 7,600 National Guard troops, and stop another 52,000 from becoming “under-employed.” While all military components are dutifully scrambling to absorb $47 billion in cuts throughout the Department of Defense, including the furloughs of 800,000 military civilians, there is one sub-group that justifies an exemption: National Guard Military Technicians.
Currently, there are 52,000 of these military technicians wearing their U.S. Army and Air Force uniforms to work every day, and they represent more than half of the National Guard’s full time force. While they are slated to be furloughed along with the other DoD civilian employees, their unique status should merit an exception. Unlike regular civilian employees, military technicians are required to be a member of the National Guard, attend weekend drills and annual training with their National Guard unit, maintain all fitness and readiness standards of their active-duty counterparts, and can be involuntarily ordered to active duty at any time. National Guard military technicians are the primary maintainers of National Guard ground equipment, airframes, equipment upgrades, and administrators of training at the unit level.
These uniquely hybrid positions have been developed over decades as the most cost-efficient and stable maintenance work-force in the DoD. What makes them distinct from other DoD civilians is their title: Military Technicians. Their predecessors were known as Civilian Technicians, and it was Congress that decided they were more military than civilian, authorized them to wear their uniforms to work every day, and awarded them that title, along with expectations of fulfilling roles and responsibilities beyond that of their former duties.
The President, Congress, and the DoD all agreed to exempt uniformed personnel from the sequester to limit the impact on military readiness. We believe the furlough of National Guard Military Technicians violates that intent. While they are technically civilian employees, they are decidedly uniformed personnel. Allowing half of the National Guard’s full-time members to be furloughed will result in an immediate reduction in the National Guard’s operational readiness across all state and federal missions. This will greatly impact the Guard’s ability to respond to domestic emergencies, homeland defense, and natural disasters.
We encourage this committee, through any possible avenues, to make provision in the Continuing Resolution to exempt National Guard Military Technicians from the impending furloughs of all DoD civilians.