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Witness Testimony of Richard Daley, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Associate Legislation Director

Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, members of the Subcommittee, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the Department of Labor’s Veteran’s Employment and Training Service (DOL-VETS) and programs under its jurisdiction.

PVA is an organization of veterans who are catastrophically disabled by spinal cord injury or disease.  Our members and other individuals who suffer from similar injuries or diseases do not receive proper consideration for employment when applying for a job.  This is often due to barriers in the workplace, false perceptions of the potential costs to employers of hiring people with disabilities, and the perceptions many people still have about veterans. 

The federal government can play a critical role for veterans, and particularly disabled veterans that are leaving the military in large numbers.  The DOL-VETS has created specific programs that provide help for veterans seeking employment.  The most important services provided by VETS are done by Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) coordinators and Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVER).  PVA, along with many other veterans’ service organizations, worked for years to have clear performance standards put in place for both DVOP and LVER staff.  In 2002, VETS initiated limited performance measures based on the rates of employment and retention. 

Following the enactment of P.L. 107-288, the “Jobs for Veterans Act,” VETS began implementing more focused performance measures for DVOP and LVER staff.  These changes were meant to emphasize the placement of severely disabled veterans and other veterans facing barriers to employment and to avoid some forms of “cherry picking.”  Though it is unpleasant to accept, when someone’s job is at risk, human nature may cause the employment specialist to select the easy placement, over the one requiring greater effort.  The revision of the duties of DVOP and LVER staff in the “Jobs for Veterans Act” and the continuing efforts of VETS  to establish meaningful performance standards are essential to reinforcement of the services they provide.  PVA welcomes these changes as they are essential to a viable job placement service.

For disabled veterans to successfully enter the job market they must first choose a career path that requires additional, or initial training for new employment skills.  This is coordinated through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VR&E).  The VR&E counselors working with local DVOP and LVER representatives can improve the seamless transition from military to civilian employment.  Many disabled veterans fall into the larger category of 30 percent service-connected disabled and may choose to stay in the career fields that the military has trained them in.  The DVOP and LVER can be an important resource for these veterans because they have knowledge of the employment opportunities in that area, some understanding of the veteran’s disability, and often have built a relationship with local employers.       

PVA remains concerned that the race to simplify, computerize and decentralize the employment system through electronic-based self-service systems and one-stop career service centers might diminish the role of DVOP and LVER staff.  We do believe there are some advantages to one-stop veterans’ job service offices.  The ability of a disabled veteran, who may have difficulty leaving his or her home, to have access to the employment services provided can be a tremendous benefit.  However, the advantage of face-to-face interaction between DVOP and LVER staff members and veterans cannot be overstated.  It seems that unless there is a paradigm shift, the number of DVOP specialists and LVER staff will be reduced. 

We believe the DOL is doing a reasonably good job of implementing the DVOP and LVER programs as required by law.  Their primary responsibility is to fund and monitor these programs. Unfortunately Congress has not increased the funding for these programs in many years.   Without adequate funding, these programs have struggled to manage an increasing work load, and it has become more difficult to address the needs of new veterans needing assistance.   Along with inadequate program funding, the DOL is not appropriated discretionary funding for special projects.  Discretionary funds could be used to test pilot programs, or to fund a program that proposes a new attempt to find employment for veterans.   

Occasionally, a state falls short of the requirements outlined in their employment service grant. However, this should not be a cause for DOL to request the return of funding.  Instead, this would indicate that more oversight is required by the Director for Veterans’ Employment and Training (DVET) to provide technical assistance and training at the state level.  Removing funding from a state program that is not performing to the required standards does not help that program, and ultimately the veteran looking for work may bare the consequences of this action.

The DOL tracks states performance by the number of persons entering the workplace.  They also track the number of veterans that register with the DVOP program.  The DOL does not track the number of veterans that gained employment because of the assistance of the states employment programs.  Sometimes these programs could have limited input into the veteran’s employment, and sometimes they have no input at all.  Perhaps the DOL could conduct a pilot program in several states to follow up with the veteran after they leave the unemployment roles. They could try to determine what influence the state office had in securing that job for the veteran.  Although this may be a labor intensive exercise, it may help determine if the the states’ efforts are producing the results that are intended for veterans.

To address the needs of today’s veterans, Congress might consider reimplementing a program similar to the Service Members Occupational Conversion and Training, (SMOCTA) program.  Although this program was funded by the Department of Defense, it was administered by the VA and the DOL. This was considered one of the better programs to serve transitioning military personnel.  SMOCTA was established during the downsizing of the military for veterans discharged after August 1, 1990, to help those veterans that had limited transferable job skills.  A similar program would help many of the younger men and women transitioning from the military today, and those reserve and guard members reentering the workforce.  

This program provided assistance in the form of reimbursements to employers who provided training for veterans that led to permanent employment.  The program also included funds for assessments, development of training plans, and supportive services for the trainee.  The DVOP and LVER staff developed the employment and training plans.  Veterans eligible for assistance were those with military occupations that were not transferable; those that were unemployed for a long period of time; and those with a 30 percent or greater service-connected disability.

Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, members of the Committee, I would like to thank you again for this opportunity to express our concerns on this issue. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.