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Witness Testimony of Ronald F. Chamrin, American Legion, Assistant Director, Economic Commission

Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for this opportunity to present The American Legion’s view on the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL-VETS).

The American Legion has been advocating for additional support for the DOL-VETS programs.  Our contentions are supported by the numerous Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports regarding VETS that have been released in recent months.  The GAO reported in May 2007 that approximately 700,000 veterans are unemployed in any given month.  (See Appendix 1.)

VETS programs are and should remain a national program with Federal oversight and accountability.  The American Legion is eager to see this program grow and especially would like to see greater expansion of entrepreneurial based, self-employment opportunity training. 

The mission of VETS is to promote the economic security of America’s veterans.  This stated mission is executed by assisting veterans in finding meaningful employment.  The American Legion believes that by strengthening American veterans, we in turn strengthen America.  Since 2001 the Department of Defense (DOD) annually returns approximately 300,000 servicemembers to the private sector each year. These recently separated servicemembers will immediately seek employment.  The American Legion has observed that these recently discharged servicemembers increasingly have chosen some form of self-employment. 

In light of the facts, The American Legion has been strongly advocating that staffing levels for Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) Specialists and Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVERs) should match the needs of the veteran community in each state as opposed to the current system that is based solely on the fiscal needs of the state government.

The American Legion believes that the military experience is essential to understanding the unique needs of the veteran.  Title 38 United States Code (USC) § 4103A should be expanded to include all LVERs, as well as all DVOPs.  Current law requires that all DVOP specialists shall be qualified veterans and preference be given to qualified service-connected disabled veterans for appointment to DVOP specialist positions.  These critical staff members should be veterans and should be additionally educated to be able to address the needs of veterans who desire entrepreneurial support.

This Committee requested that we respond to four questions in addition to our concerns:

  1. Is DOL properly implementing the DVOP/LVER programs with the states?
  2. Under what circumstances should states lose funding for failing to meet their obligations?
  3. Are part-time DVOP/LVER meeting the needs of rural and urban area veterans?
  4. What is your organization’s position on how the DOL tracks its performance measures?

1.  IS DOL PROPERLY IMPLEMENTING THE DVOP/LVER PROGRAMS WITH THE STATES?

The Jobs for Veterans Act, Public Law (P.L.) 107-288, has eliminated the requirement that DOL/VETS review all workforce centers annually and this has minimized Federal oversight of the programs.   The Assistant Secretary (ASVET) has drastically cut funds allocated for this activity and established a policy that only 10 percent of the centers operated under Title 38 will be reviewed.  Furthermore, P.L. 107-288 has removed the job descriptions of the DVOPs and LVERs from Title 38, USC, and given the States the ability to establish the duties and responsibilities, thus weakening the VETS programs across the country by eliminating the language that required these staff positions provide services only to veterans.

Finally, the passage of P.L. 107-288 removed the Federally-mandated manning formulas for assigning DVOPs and LVERs in each state.  This action has allowed each State to determine the number of veterans’ employment personnel in each State.  States now have the discretion of assigning one half time DVOP and/or LVER to one office, while eliminating positions in offices that need veterans’ staff by virtue of veteran intake. 

The American Legion supports the restoration of language to Chapter 41, Title 38, USC, that require that half time DVOP/LVER positions be assigned only after approval of the Director of Veterans Employment and Training (DVET), and that the Secretary of Labor be required to monitor all career centers that have veteran staff assigned.  The American Legion also supports legislation that restores the duties and responsibilities of DVOPs and LVERs to include case management, outreach to veterans and job development.

TAP administration by State governed DVOPs/LVERs

VETS provides professional veterans' employment personnel, DVOPs/LVERs, to participate in the Transitional Assistance Program (TAP) on military installations.  Higher demands placed on LVERs to deliver TAP modules, in addition to their normal employment assistance programs, has the potential for weakening their overall capability.  In order to circumvent any gaps in providing services, additional funding to support an increased number of LVERs should occur. 

Training for DVOPs/LVERs under state jurisdiction

The National Veterans’ Employment and Training Services Institute (NVTI) provides training to Federal and state government employment service providers in competency based training courses.  Current law requires all DVOPs and LVERs to be trained within 3 years of hiring.

NVTI has provided several thousand training sessions for State Employment Security Agency staff, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) staff, DOD staff, and Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) Vocational Rehabilitation staff.  NVTI provides standardized training for veterans’ advocates providing employment and training services.  The positive impact on the quality of services provides veterans with well-trained vocational specialists across the country.

P.L. 109-461 stipulates that newly hired DVOPs/LVERs must attend the NVTI to be trained for their position within 3 years of hiring.  Unfortunately, a newly hired individual can retain their position for 2.5 years before they are required to begin training to ensure that graduation is within the 3-year hiring period.  Newly-hired employment specialists, without the benefit of NVTI training, may be ill-prepared to properly assist veterans seeking meaningful employment or facing significant barriers to employment.

To close this loophole, The American Legion recommends that newly hired DVOPs/LVERs personnel must be trained at NVTI within the first year of employment and supports that all untrained DVOP/LVER staff within 3 years of hiring at the time of enactment of new legislation must be trained within 1 year.  The American Legion also recommends $6 million of funding to NVTI.   

Interagency Cooperation Between DOL-VETS and VA at State levels

It is our observations that the interagency collaboration and communication between the VR&E program, and DOL-VETS is lacking. 

A Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between VA and DOL was developed and signed in October 2005 stating that each agency would work for the smooth transition of veterans to the civilian work force.  This agreement is authorized in accordance with title 38, USC, §4102A(b)(3).

In discussions with numerous VETS representatives across the country, The American Legion is hearing a variety of opinions on the current implementation process and progress of the MOU.  A majority of VETS representatives contacted spoke of a markedly improved level of communication between the two agencies, along with other positive developments such as improvement in local data sharing and combined training on the local and national levels.  In addition, national representatives from the two agencies are currently reporting a close and cooperative relationship, and the expectation is that this relationship will continue to improve over time.

In some states, however, it has been reported that the signing of the MOU has not led to an improvement in cooperation between the two agencies.  Some problems cited were a difference in the perceptions of the primary mission, differing education levels of VA case managers and DVOPs and LVERs, and the unenforceable mandate for the two agencies to communicate and cooperate on a local level.  DVOPs and LVERs are controlled by each individual state and have their own requirements making a state and Federal program difficult to synchronize.

2.  UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD STATES LOSE FUNDING FOR FAILING TO MEET THEIR OBLIGATIONS?

The American Legion does not have a position regarding loss of funding for failure to meet obligations.  We do, however, advocate for continuous oversight on all Federal programs for veterans. 

3.  ARE PART-TIME DVOP/LVERs MEETING THE NEEDS OF RURAL AND URBAN AREA VETERANS?

The American Legion has observed, by virtue of our members who are employed as DVOPs/LVERs, that due to half time status, these personnel are unable to travel to the locations where veterans tend to congregate.  Their travel budgets have been slashed.  Their half time status prohibits periods of travel that will extend beyond half a day, and their other requirements force them to be able to assist non-veterans within their employment offices. 

The American Legion reiterates to only have half time DVOPs/LVERs at the approval of the DVET.

4.   WHAT IS YOUR ORGANIZATION’S POSITION ON HOW THE DOL TRACKS ITS PERFORMANCE MEASURES?

The Employment and Training Administration (ETA), DOL stated that although P.L. 107-288 requires veterans’ priority services in all DOL programs, ETA has not monitored the performance nor do they have a way of tracking the performance. 

The ASVET cannot accurately capture necessary local, state wide and national data to adequately assess performance outcomes or hold the various states accountable for providing priority services to veterans.  Additionally, states are not required to report to the ASVET. 

The American Legion supports that any agency provided Federal funding to provide veterans’ employment and training services must adhere to priority of service, and develop reporting systems that track priority services to veterans as provided and outlined in Title 38, USC.  Furthermore, all DOL One-Stop Centers should work with the VETS to ensure the operations of the One-Stop Centers meet or exceed the Federally-mandated priority of service for eligible veterans.

The American Legion strongly supports improvements in the reporting programs available to and administered by VETS.  The ASVET should be empowered to establish clear, up to date, real time performance standards and a means of collecting data to properly measure performance at the local, state, and national level.

The American Legion also seeks and supports a revision of existing VETS reporting requirements for measuring performance standards and for determining compliance with requirements for providing employment services to veterans.

FULL FUNDING FOR DOL-VETS

The President requested $228.1 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 to support the staffing and grant making ability of VETS.  This is a $5.1 million, or 2.3 percent, increase over FY 2007.  For FY 2008, the House provided an additional $3 million for Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP), $1 million for NVTI, and $1 million for additional employees, including one additional employee in each of the six regional offices to address complaints and investigations arising under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

Veterans returning from duty in support of the Global War on Terror are not always coming back to a hero’s welcome, at least not from all employers.  The American Legion notes that DOL-VETS reports an unemployment rate in 2006 of approximately 10 percent for veterans aged 20-24, improved in comparison to 2005, but is still higher than the national average of non-veterans within the same age group and significantly higher than the general population as a whole.   Numerous national publications have reported veterans are having a more difficult time finding jobs than non-veterans. 

The employment market is tougher for young veterans as illustrated in a January 2007 Study by the National Organization of Research, Chicago.

‘An illustrative example of this complexity is the experience of the respondent whose public identifier is 8224. He reported exiting the military in week 45 of 1998. He was then employed every week from week 46 in 1998 to week 13 of 2000.  He returned to the military from week 14 of 2000 to week 29, and returned to employment from week 30 of 2000 to week 50. He returned to the military in week 51 of 2000, and stayed until week 12 of 2001. He was employed from weeks 13 to 44 for 2001, and then was out of the labor force from week 45 to week 48 of 2001. This was followed by a spell of unemployment from week 49 of 2001 to week 40 of 2002. The respondent was then out of the labor force for 10 weeks, and then was employed from week 52 of 2002 to week 49 of 2004.’

The American Legion receives numerous requests for employment assistance and comments on unemployment and underemployment.  This is a key reason why the funding for the VETS program is so critical.

Veterans need proper training and tools to begin new careers after they leave military service.  For example, the Veterans Workforce Investment Program (VWIP) account has only received $7.3 million in annual funding, which has allowed the program to operate in only 11 states.  This is unacceptable.  There are thousands of veterans available for work, but some lack marketable or technical skills.  The problem is a lack of adequate funding for this and other veteran only programs.

To ensure that all veterans, both transitioning and those looking for employment assistance well past their discharge, receive the best care; the DOL-VETS program must be adequately funded.  The American Legion has observed that the ASVET does not have any discretionary funding that would enable him to create programs or enhance current programs to help veterans.  With the great need for employment assistant, we feel that the current funding levels are inadequate. Please refer to appendix 2 for the presidents FY 2008 Budget Request for DOL-VETS.

Contrary to the demands placed upon VETS, the funding increases for VETS since 9/11 does not reflect the large increase in servicemembers requiring these services due to the Global War on Terror.  In support of this fact, the inflation rate from January 2002 to January 2007 was 14.3 percent and yet for State Grants alone, funding has only increased a mere 1.2 percent ($158 million to $161 million).  The President’s Budget request for FY 08 will allow for an increase of one percent for State Grants, the mechanism for funding DVOPs and LVERs.  However, this does not meet the inflation rate of salaries and approximately 100 positions will be eliminated nationwide next year. 

Because of the enactment of P.L. 107-288, each state receives an individual grant based upon their State Plans and how many positions that they feel that they require.  The new funding formula emplaced in 2002 re-calculated the authorization for State Grants leaving the onus of how many staff members to fund the responsibility of each state.  It is our understanding that if a state chose to employ half time DVOP’s and LVER’s instead of a full time employee that is their prerogative.  However, DOL-VETS has no enforcement authority to mandate that states request only full time staff and in greater numbers.  Since the enactment of P.L. 107-288 there has been a net loss of DVOP’s and LVER’s as the net cost per FTE has risen at a rapid rate.    Moreover, the Wagner-Peyser grants from DOL have a direct correlation to the number of indirect costs to VETS.  DOL-VETS can provide a detailed breakdown of their funding, authorization, and formulas.

More services and programs are needed and yet, since 2002, the VETS program has only received a modest four percent increase.  Accordingly, The American Legion recommends full funding for DOL-VETS.

SERVICE MEMBERS OCCUPATIONAL CONVERSION AND TRAINING ACT (SMOCTA)

The American Legion continues to encourage Congress to reauthorize and adequately appropriate funds for the Service Members Occupational Conversion and Training Act (SMOCTA) program.  SMOCTA was developed as a transitional tool designed to provide job training and employment to eligible veterans discharged after August 1, 1990.  SMOCTA was the only Federal job training program available strictly for veterans and the only Federal job training program specifically designed and available for use by state veterans' employment personnel to assist veterans with barriers to employment. 

Veterans eligible for assistance under SMOCTA were those with a primary or secondary military occupational specialty that DOD has determined is not readily transferable to the civilian workforce or those veterans with a service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or higher.  SMOCTA is a unique job–training program because there is a job for the veteran upon completion of training.  Specialists publicly praised the effectiveness of SMOCTA because it successfully returned veterans to the civilian workforce. 

The American Legion recommends SMOCTA be reauthorized and fully funded. 

CONCLUSION

Transition assistance, education, and employment are each a pillar of financial stability.  They will prevent homelessness, afford veterans to compete in the private sector, and allow this nation’s veterans to contribute their military skills and education to the civilian sector.  By placing veterans in suitable employment sooner, the country benefits from increased income tax revenue and reduced unemployment compensation payments, thus greatly offsetting the cost of TAP training.  DOL-VETS requires full funding.

The American Legion looks forward to continue working with the Subcommittee to assist the nation’s veterans and to assist in their employment and financial stability.  Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee, this concludes my testimony.


APPENDIX 1

GAO REPORTS

The Government Accountability Office recently produced many reports regarding the Department of Labor and the Department of Labor VETS.  GAO-07-1096, a report to the Chairman, Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives

GAO recommends that Labor step up action to ensure that all stand-alone offices be affiliated with the one-stop system.

GAO-07-1020

GAO recommends that to ensure the implementation of their agreement and the efficient and effective use of resources, GAO recommend that Labor and VA develop a comprehensive plan to implement their agreement and undertake additional guidance and monitoring efforts, and that VA review the role of the employment coordinator, and assess the use of the job resource labs.

GAO-07-907

GAO recommends that the Secretary of Labor develop an internal review mechanism for all unresolved claims before they are closed and claimants are notified and establish internal controls to ensure the accuracy of data entered into DOL’s database.

GAO-07-594  

GAO is made a number of recommendations to improve the performance measurement system for the DVOP and LVER programs and to better understand services and their impact for job seekers in the one-stop system, including veterans.

GAO-07-1051T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness, Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives

GAO reported additional actions that would further improve the workforce system.

Pie Chart showing the FY 2007 Budget REquest by Program Activity

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Veterans Employment and Training Service, FY 2008 Congressional Budget Justification