Witness Testimony of Richard F. Weidman, Vietnam Veterans of America, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs
Good afternoon, Madame Chairwoman, Ranking Member Boozman and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for giving Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) the opportunity to offer our comments regarding licensure and certification activities that could, if put in place, materially enhance the lives of the men and women retuning to civilian lives from today’s wars.
The United States military is still the largest and arguably the most effective training institution in America. Skills are taught ranging from computer programming to meteorology to flying to allied health care professions to language proficiency to public relations to virtually anything that one can think of as a type of work or skill that would be required in any facet of our society. They do what they do very well indeed. Service members are able to acquire extraordinary proficiencies and skills even in a short military career. The one thing that is generally lacking, however, are “civilian paper credentials” that document what they know and can do in a manner that is transferable and accepted in the civilian economy and the civilian job marketplace. This lack often means that extraordinary skill and well grounded subject knowledge is often lost to the individual as a credential that can be marketed in the civilian world, and thus often very expensive training paid for by the American taxpayer becomes an economic opportunity loss to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It means jobs not filled, leadership potential and skills not put to productive use, and a general loss to our overall economic growth. Frankly, this is an intolerable situation that the nation can no longer tolerate.
The need for formal credentialing of skills, knowledge, and training acquired in the military in a way that will be accepted in the civilian world has been apparent to many for at least thirty five years. One of the major successes in capitalizing on experience and training began with the MEDEX program at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire to train former Navy Corpsmen and Army Medics as Physician Assistants or “P.A.s” that began in 1971. The entire profession in medicine now known as Physician Assistants really began with that one program, Physician Assistants are now widely accepted in civilian medical settings, and in the military itself, where there are even P.A.s serving as Commanding Officers of Medical Companies. In fact, Physician Assistants are highly respected and have a broad range of practice almost everywhere in U.S. medicine, except the Veterans Health Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Two other successes also involved Army Medics, and occurred in the late 1980s. One was an effort that began with one of the more forward thinking State Directors in the Veterans Employment & Training Service of the U.S. Department of Labor, and some of the staff of the state government in his state who together helped initiate a dialogue that led to all graduates of the Army’s Medical Training Center at Fort Sam Houston, Texas being offered the opportunity to take a certification exam to be licensed as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) with a credential that is recognized in all 50 states. It took almost three years to achieve consensus and approval from the credentialing entities in all 50 states. A similar effort to try and get automatic licensing of Registered Nurses separating from the military in all 50 states did not succeed, even though it made great sense, particularly in states that have urban areas with the most acute nursing shortages. One thing that did succeed, at least for a time, was to use Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) funds to pay for additional classroom and On-the-Job training of former Navy Corpsmen and Army Medics to become Organ Transplant Coordinators. These were very good jobs, although tough in hours and emotionally. However, they were paid $35,000 per year while in training and average wages upon completing the 18 month training was a starting salary in excess of $60, 000 per year plus benefits (and this was in 1990 dollars).
The Congress recognized that there was still a large unfilled need when it passed the legislation that became Public Law 106-50, in 1999. One provision created a mechanism for pursuing many additional fields where service members could obtain civilian recognized certification that would enable them to market their skills and expertise acquired during military service in the civilian job market. Unfortunately this function was located in the National Veterans Business Development Corporation (AKA – The Veterans Corporation) which was yet to get organized, and which had more than enough of a challenge just getting organized to try and meet their primary mandate.
Frankly, the function should be formally moved to the Department of Labor, and impetus from the Congress marshaled to ensure that Labor actually moves forward, in cooperation with the accrediting bodies for the professions and skill trades in the states, to create smooth transition for those separating today and in the future, especially disabled veterans.
The best work we know of being done anywhere today is the National Organization of Competency Assurance (NOCA). They were most interested in the area following the enactment of Public Law 106-50, but became disillusioned over time as there was no real movement toward getting military cooperation and all parties moving to come to workable solutions. It became clear early on the Veterans Corporation was not able to handle this task, nor did they want it. While there was some activity after the actual function, if not the legal responsibility, was moved over to the Veterans Employment & Training Service at USDOL, there has not been any major progress to our knowledge. They are having a major conference on the rapidly changing field of skill certification in San Antonio in November, which will be attended by employers as well as certifying entities and professionals in this field.
There are some tools and information available on the VETS web site regarding certification and credentialing, but actual certification agreement and arrangements for military occupations does not appear to be something that is being pursued. Frankly, there needs to be clarification of responsibilities and accountability for pursuing this effort, and funding provided if there is to be any serious effort to capitalize on the considerable investment the nation has already made in the training and education of separating service members.
The nation’s business community is very concerned with finding skilled workers who are disciplined and ready, willing, and eager to work. In fact VVA is a member of the United States Chamber of Commerce, and active in the activities of the US Chamber’s Institute for a Competitive Workforce, which is having a major conference here in Washington, D.C. next week. I have made details of this event available to your staff. VVA is pursuing a number of private efforts with business and privately owned military job boards because we are getting more return for our efforts per hour invested than with the Federal entities that should be in the forefront of this effort.
The point is that businesses large and small are scrambling to locate and hire good, trained workers at a time when military separatees do not know where to turn, or do not have the civilian certification of the actual skills they possess. This matter of skill certification and proper matching of veterans with jobs is matter that directly and materially affects the ability of the younger veterans in being able to quickly enter the civilian labor force at a level which will maximize their competence.
May I be so bold as to suggest that it would be fruitful for this Subcommittee to hold a semi-formal/informal “roundtable” in the next few months that would involve members, business leaders, VETS/USDOL, VA Vocational Rehabilitation & Education, DOD, veterans and military organizations, , representatives from the Institute for a Competitive Workforce and similar entities, representatives from NOCA and similar entities, as well as other stakeholders as determined by you to try and articulate the needs, and “brainstorm” what might be a productive course of action to meet the needs of both the returning veterans and of American business in the second session of the 110th Congress.
Madame Chairwoman and distinguished Members of this subcommittee that concludes VVA’s formal statement. I welcome your comments, and will be pleased to answer any questions you may have. Again, on behalf of VVA National President John Rowan, the VVA National Board of Directors, and our membership, thank you for allowing VVA to appear here today to share our views.