Witness Testimony of Mr. John K. Moran,Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations & Management, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, U.S. Department of Labor
Good Morning Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in today’s hearing on “Review of Veterans Employment Challenges and Initiatives of the 112th Congress.” My name is John Moran, and as Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) at the Department of Labor (DOL or Department), I am proud of the work we are doing to support our Service Members, Veterans, and their families. This morning I will highlight the Department’s efforts to provide employment services to separating Service Members and Veterans through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and Jobs for Veterans State Grant (JVSG) program, provide an update on our efforts with the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), and discuss Veterans’ unemployment insurance trends and how the Department is exploring strategies to address them.
An estimated 300,000 Service Members, including Guard and Reserve, will separate and leave the military each year over the next five years; that represents approximately 1.5 million individuals who will be looking to start new careers in a challenging economic environment. The nation is rightfully focused more than ever on ensuring that America fulfills its obligations to these Service Members, Veterans, and their families. To that end, President Obama and Secretary Solis are committed to serving our military families as well as they’ve served us by providing them with the support they need and deserve to successfully transition to the civilian workforce and find and secure meaningful careers.
Veterans offer a unique set of skills, experiences and leadership abilities developed and honed during their years in the military and during combat, yet the October 2012, 10.0 percent unemployment rate for Gulf War-era II Veterans highlights the difficulties returning Veterans are facing in their search for new careers. The challenge of finding good jobs for all Veterans requires a focused national effort that our mission and initiatives directly support. The VETS mission is a direct reflection of our Nation’s responsibility to meet the employment, training, and job security needs of Americans who have served in uniform.
We execute our mission through our “P3 Campaign”: Prepare Provide and Protect. We Prepare separating Service Members and their spouses for obtaining employment through the DOL Employment Workshop component of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP); we Provide employment assistance and training to separating Service Members and Veterans, and advocate on their behalf across all sectors; and we Protect the employment and reemployment rights of Service Members and Veterans by investigating allegations of wrongdoing under the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and by monitoring affirmative measures to hire Veterans in Federal contracting.
In Fiscal Year 2011, DOL provided more than 4,200 Employment Workshops to nearly 152,000 participants while simultaneously initiating a major effort to revamp and update the Employment Workshop curriculum. Components of the revised Employment Workshop include: translating military experience into equivalent civilian language; enhanced resume development; and increasing skills in interviewing techniques. Results of pilot Employment Workshop surveys indicate that 91 percent of participants believe the course improved their confidence in successfully planning for their transition. These early results provide assurance that the new curriculum is meeting our Veterans’ needs and expectations. Additionally, in Program Year 2010 (July 2010 – June 2011), we provided employment assistance to 1.5 million Veterans through the American Job Centers (AJCs). And, as of November 2, 2012, 59,737 VRAP applications have been approved since the program began operation in July2012. We have also investigated 1,548 new USERRA complaint cases, helping Service Members and Veterans resolve employment issues. Although we’ve done well, we want and need to do more to assist our transitioning Service Members, Veterans and their families.
In an effort to provide enhanced employment assistance to separating Service Members, Veterans, and spouses, we aim to be more proactive in our outreach to transitioning Service Members even earlier in the transition process. Historically, the Department’s primary touch point with separating Service Members has been during TAP, specifically, during the Employment Workshop. For many separating Service Members, attendance at TAP occurs many months after they have decided to separate from the military. The gap between when they make that decision and their attendance at TAP, for example, represents an opportunity to provide early information on the employment assistance available through our AJCs. TAP also affords an opportunity for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to inform Service Members about VA benefits and health, which also are viewed as a vital part of the overall post-military employment process. As such, one of our key goals is to increase outreach to separating Service Members and Veterans as early in the transition process as possible.
Our outreach strategy involves a four-fold increase in the number of times we interact and provide employment assistance and guidance to separating Service Members. These four “touch points” occur: 1) when the service member decides to separate from military service; 2) when the service member attends the TAP Employment Workshop; 3) at the point of formal separation; and 4) approximately 70 days after separation. Each touch point reinforces the service member’s awareness and understanding of the benefits of the AJCs. At the first touch point, we provide basic information on AJCs. At the second touch point, TAP Employment Workshop attendance, Service Members and their spouses not only learn about Job Centers’ resources, but they also have an opportunity to register for online services provided by the Department and receive information about the Job Center nearest to the community where they intend to live. When the service member separates, the third touch point, we remind the member of the services provided at AJCs. The fourth touch point reaches this cohort at a time when they may be surprised at the difficulty of their job search. It provides yet another reminder of the specific help they can get, where they can get it, and what it will do for them.
This four-point strategy will lead to improved employment outcomes and decreasing Unemployment Compensation costs. It will also reinforce the message that we are standing by our troops – even after they leave the service. With the skills developed during military service, the preparation received prior to separating, and civilian employers recognizing the value of hiring Veterans, we expect that many Veterans will continue to find good jobs on their own. However, we want to continually remind our Veterans of the help and services available to them through our nation-wide AJC network.
Jobs for Veterans State Grant (JVSG) Strategy:
Earlier I pointed out that nearly 300,000 Service Members will be separating from the military each year over the next 5 years, totaling approximately 1.5 million individuals. The federally-funded public workforce system, comprised of approximately 2,800 AJCs across the nation, will be challenged in meeting the increased demand for employment services for these heroes.
The public workforce system provides priority of service for Veterans in all DOL-funded employment and training programs. In addition, VETS, through the JVSG program, funds two types of state-level positions: the Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Specialists (DVOPs) and the Local Veteran Employment Representatives (LVERs). Specially trained DVOPs provide intensive services for Veterans who have significant barriers to employment to focus on improved employment prospects. LVERs conduct outreach to employers to develop and identify employment opportunities for all Veterans served by the AJC, and to educate and advise all AJC staff on Veteran issues.
Over the years, there has been a lack of clarity about the primary duties of DVOPs and LVERs, which has led to a risk that those Veterans with the most significant barriers to employment could be underserved. VETS and DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) have been working closely together to examine and refocus the roles and responsibilities of DVOPs and LVERs, and intend to issue guidance on this in the future. We will keep the Committee informed as our work on this issue progresses.
Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) Outreach and Participation:
Section 211 of the VOW Act established the VRAP for unemployed Veterans aged 35 to 60 to provide eligible Veterans with up to 12 months of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)-funded retraining assistance to pursue an associate degree or certificate in a high-demand occupation. The VOW Act specifies that the VA and DOL shall jointly administer the process for determining an applicant’s VRAP eligibility. DOL’s specific responsibility is to determine an applicant’s initial eligibility based on their age, employment status, and previous participation in other job training programs. To this end, DOL and the VA have developed a joint application process that relies on a combination of VA data and self-attestation to ensure the timely implementation of this requirement. We highly encourage all eligible Veterans to apply for and utilize their earned benefits under VRAP.
The Department’s outreach efforts are focused on not only ensuring that eligible participants are accepted into the VRAP, but that they also complete their training. DOL has strongly encouraged State Workforce Agencies to promote the program at the state and local level, and has received informal updates from the states about their ongoing outreach efforts. The vast majority of states, for example, have specifically mentioned utilizing their Unemployment Insurance (UI) system or other case management systems to identify unemployed age-eligible Veterans for targeted VRAP outreach. Although this approach is not capable of identifying all age-eligible Veterans, it is an effective starting point for targeting age-eligible Veterans who are unemployed and likely in need of retraining and employment assistance.
In May 2012, DOL issued formal announcements providing the workforce system with general information on the VRAP (Training and Employment Notice 43-11 and Veterans Program Letter 7-12), and presented a joint webinar with the VA offering a walk-through of the VRAP application. In October 2012, DOL provided formal policy guidance for the workforce system on providing outreach to VRAP participants after they exit the program (Training and Employment Guidance Letter 8-12). Further, DOL sent a "Welcome to VRAP" email to over 50,000 Veterans with an approved application. This email informed them of the services and assistance available through the AJCs; the right to priority of service as a Veteran; how to locate their state's job bank and find the nearest AJC; and VA contact information if they need to discuss their VRAP application or certify enrollment. DOL and VA have also discussed providing additional outreach to the VRAP-approved applicants who have yet to enroll in training.
Moreover, DOL is leveraging the core employment services provided under the Wagner-Peyser Act to track the employment outcomes of VRAP participants who receive employment assistance from AJC staff. Specifically, the Department will capture the entered employment, employment retention, and earnings outcomes of Veterans who participate in VRAP, and then subsequently receive employment services through the Wagner-Peyser Act program. DOL also prepared a Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) Information Collection Request for OMB approval to collect data on the level of outreach provided to each VRAP participant after he or she has completed VRAP training. Lastly, DOL and the VA are developing a set of follow-up inquiries for VRAP participants to measure their satisfaction with the VRAP. As of November 1, 2012, there were 59,737 Veterans accepted into the VRAP, with 16,264 Veterans enrolled in training. It is expected that post-training employment assistance services will be provided by AJC staff, with DVOP specialists supporting those Veterans with significant barriers to employment.
Veterans Unemployment Compensation:
State Workforce Agencies track those individuals who were recently separated from military service under the Department of Defense and are receiving unemployment insurance (UI) benefits through the Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Service Members (UCX) program. During the month of September, for example, the average weekly number of payments to UCX claimants was 53,629. This includes UCX claimants in the regular UI program, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 2008 (EUC 2008) program, and the Federal-State Extended Benefits (EB) program. Average duration of claims can only be provided for UCX claimants while they are in the regular program, which in most states constitutes the first 26 weeks of UI, paid for and administered by the states. For the 12 months ending September, 2012, the average duration for UCX claimants in the regular UI program was 21.5 weeks. For the 12 months ending September, 2012, 90,965 UCX claimants drew at least one check in the regular program and 58,760 of those claimants used all of their benefits, exhausting their regular program entitlement. This equates to a 64.5 percent exhaustion rate; we can only provide an exhaustion rate measure for those UCX claimants in the regular program.
In addition, the U.S. Army approached our partner agency, ETA, in the fall of 2011 to discuss collaborative strategies to support improved outreach to Veterans receiving unemployment benefits under the UCX program. Those discussions led to a decision to partner with four states to develop and model new strategies that provide a strong collaboration among the UI system, the public workforce system, and the three branches of the Army (regular, Guard, and Reserves). Four states - Georgia, Illinois, North Carolina and Texas - received grants of $750,000 each from the Program Year 2011 (July 2011 – June 2012) WIA Dislocated Worker Demonstration funds to participate in this initiative. These states were selected based on their high UCX claimant populations and demonstrated interest in developing innovative reemployment strategies for Veterans. The Enhanced Outreach and Employment Services for Army Unemployment Compensation for UCX Claimants Initiative will support the development and implementation of new outreach and service delivery strategies, data sharing, as well as delivery of enhanced reemployment services provided to UCX claimants. We expect to see new strategies to increase access to job search opportunities for UCX Claimants emerge from this effort.
Over the next five years, a projected 1.5 million Service Members will be transitioning from active duty to civilian life. We owe these brave men and women the best services and benefits our Nation can provide. The Department and this Administration are firmly committed to fulfilling that sacred obligation. We strive daily to do so through programs and services designed to Prepare, Provide and Protect our transitioning Service Members, Veterans and their spouses.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Braley, Members of the Subcommittee, this concludes my statement. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.