Ryan M. Gallucci, Deputy Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States
MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THIS COMMITTEE:
On behalf of the 2.1 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and our Auxiliaries, the VFW would like to thank this committee for the opportunity to present its views on these bills.
H.R. 169, To require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to include on the main page of the Internet website of the Department of Veterans Affairs a hyperlink to the VetSuccess Internet website and to publicize such Internet website.
The VFW generally supports the intent of H.R. 169. However, we believe that the problem this bill seeks to rectify goes beyond VA. Recently, the Office of Personnel Management published its report on the 2009 Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government initiative, or Feds Hire Vets. Though the report demonstrated some success in the initiative, the gains in veteran hires were underwhelming. Numbers across agencies were inconsistent, while traditionally military-friendly departments, such as the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs still comprise nearly 80 percent of total veterans employed.
After reviewing the numbers, the VFW decided to look at how each federal executive agency chose to implement the tasks of the Feds Hire Vets program through their websites, which the VFW believes is the most easily accessible point of entry for job-seekers. The VFW found that information for veteran job-seekers was not readily available on many agency websites, and those that included the information often directed job-seekers into a loop that was difficult to navigate, and eventually guided job-seekers to USAJOBS.
Though the VFW does not necessarily support a legislative solution to issues of website layout and design, we support the notion that federal agencies should practice consistency in their messaging to veteran job-seekers. The VFW believes that veterans should be able to easily find resources like VetSuccess and USAJOBS on the landing pages of federal agencies, and we hope that Veteran Employment Program officers will choose to implement this recommendation as a best practice.
H.R. 1941, Hiring Heroes Act of 2011
The VFW supports H.R. 1941, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, and considers this bill a critical and overdue piece of legislation that will help our nation’s heroes reenter and remain competitive in the workforce. During recent difficult economic times, young veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been disproportionately affected by a stagnant job market, which is why VFW believes Congress should take every step necessary to ensure that our nation’s heroes have viable careers available to them when they leave the military. The VFW generally supports the provisions of H.R. 1941, but we would like to focus on several of the bill’s sections in our testimony.
First, the VFW agrees that TAP must be mandatory for all service members leaving the military. This is a missed opportunity to ensure that all service members have a viable baseline from which to work once they reenter the civilian workforce. The VFW also believes that consultation with VA should be included in all TAP programs, ensuring that veterans transitioning out of the military are at least aware of the benefits and services to which they are entitled.
The VFW also agrees that direct hiring authority for federal agencies and offering civilian work experience for potential civil service employees while on terminal leave will cut down on red tape for veterans seeking careers in the federal workforce. Allowing qualified veterans a direct path to a civil service career also helps federal agencies fulfill their obligations to employ veterans.
Finally, the VFW supports offering two additional years of VocRehab benefits for unemployed veterans who have exhausted all of their state and federal benefits. The intent of VocRehab is to ensure that veterans who were disabled in the line of duty would be trained and employable in a new career field. If a veteran has used their VocRehab benefits, yet remains unemployed, then their initial VocRehab program clearly failed. To the VFW, VA is obligated to ensure that veterans who participate in the program truly receive the job skills they need to remain competitive in the civilian workforce.
The VFW also has a suggestion for improving H.R. 1491. Section 9 of the bill has the right objective; making the transition from military to civilian life easier by allowing service members to apply the skills learned from their MOS to the civilian workforce. The problem with Section 9 is the approach; calling for a study and report requiring coordination between the Secretaries of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Labor. This approach wastes time on bureaucracy, rather than helping to place the service member in a civilian occupation. Replacing Section 9 with ongoing private sector initiatives—two of which the VFW follows at Fort Bragg and in Illinois—would streamline this transition by cutting out bureaucracy. Some of these initiatives utilize mathematical algorithms through which service members can simply enter their MOS to populate a list of viable civilian careers; others identify and fill state credentialing gaps; and industry experts continue to develop ways to translate such data sets into usable information to guide veterans on their educational and professional training needs. The VFW is eager to discuss these initiatives further with members of the committee following this hearing. The VFW believes that the private sector already has the capacity to bring the departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs into the 21st century through these ongoing initiatives without wasting additional resources on a duplicative study. Starting over with another study could cause a setback on gains already made by companies that have identified such gaps and are already working to close them.
H.R. 2433, Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011
The VFW supports H.R. 2433, the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011, which is yet another long overdue piece of legislation to help veterans find meaningful employment during difficult economic times. The VFW generally supports the provisions of this bill, which will create substantive new programs for veterans, while also codifying reporting requirements for the departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs to ensure that new and ongoing initiatives are producing the desired result of placing veterans in viable careers once they separate from the military.
The VFW supports the proposal to create a new Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, allowing veterans who have exhausted both their education benefits and unemployment benefits to take advantage of an additional 12 months of training, honing the skills necessary to reenter the competitive job market. This new program would serve an often overlooked demographic within the veterans’ community—workers ages 35 to 60—who are struggling to make ends meet during difficult economic times, but either do not qualify for or have exhausted comprehensive benefits packages like the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill or Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation benefits.
As the VFW testified in relation to the extension of additional Chapter 31 benefits to unemployed veterans who have participated in the VocRehab program, VA education benefits were designed to allow veterans to cultivate the skills necessary to compete in the civilian workforce. If veterans have taken advantage of these programs, but remain unemployable, then the programs clearly failed and further assistance should be made available. Veterans have been hit disproportionately hard by the economic downtown. However, the VFW knows that our nation’s war-fighters still bring tremendous intangibles to the workplace. The VFW views this short-term benefit as a stop-gap measure to ensure that those who served our nation have the resources they need to help stimulate our economy.
One of the VFW’s top priorities for the last few years has been mandating TAP programs for separating service members across the armed forces. This bill not only mandates TAP, but calls on concerned agencies to also compile data on program outcomes such the length of a veteran’s unemployment following separation, starting salaries upon finding employment, and status of educational and vocational training programs.
Another overlooked statistic when discussing veterans’ transition into the civilian workforce is underemployment. The VFW believes that many times veterans with years of relevant work experience as military professionals are treated as either entry level or even unskilled workers once they enter the civilian workforce. This is unacceptable, and the VFW believes that tracking starting salaries for TAP participants is a critical first step in rectifying this injustice.
The VFW believes that by mandating TAP, creating reporting criteria, including VA in TAP programs, and possibly integrating several of the follow-up provisions from H.R. 1941, Congress can ensure that veterans not only receive a baseline of resources to assist in their transition off of active duty, but that concerned agencies will have a vested interest in demonstrating program success.
Ensuring successful implementation of ongoing educational and employment programs seems to be a consistent goal of H.R. 2433, such as calling for DVOPs and LVERs to be evaluated upon completion of their training. The VFW supports this evaluation and the requirements that all full time DVOPs and LVERs must only perform tasks related to their specific function. The VFW has consistently heard of DVOPs and LVERs crisscrossing their responsibilities, ultimately diluting the caliber of services delivered to veterans eligible for each of the unique programs. Implementing auditing requirements whereby states could lose funding for DVOPs and LVERs for failure to comply will help ensure mission success.
The VFW also supports the pilot program allowing states to allocate up to 25 percent of DVOP and LVER funding for individual job training. The VFW believes that this keeps with the intent of DVOPs and LVERs of assisting eligible individuals in finding gainful employment, and VFW supports the caveat that all requests must be made to VA on an individual basis. If existing programs cannot help a veteran become employable, the VFW believes this last ditch effort is a proper use of available resources to ensure that the unique needs of the veteran will be met.
Finally, the VFW supports the approach H.R. 2433 takes to successfully correlating military service to civilian job skills. Though this bill also calls for the completion of the DOD, DOL, VA study, it includes the caveat that existing programs addressing this issue should be leveraged. As we have testified in the past, private industry groups are already working to address this issue with quantifiable success. We believe it is the responsible course of action to ensure that we are not duplicating effort.
The VFW views both H.R. 1941 and H.R. 2433 as critical pieces of stand-alone legislation that can each help veteran job-seekers successfully find viable careers after military service. The VFW believes that the new benefits programs established by both bills will help different sectors of unemployed veterans find viable work, and we believe the provisions included to offset costs are fair. The bills only minimally overlap when discussing issues such as mandatory TAP and credentialing of military job skills in the civilian sector. The VFW welcomes the opportunity to work with the committee on how to improve either bill or create a single, comprehensive bill that includes provisions of both. However, the VFW must reiterate that unemployed veterans need a comprehensive veterans’ employment package yesterday, which is why we urge Congress to move quickly in passing these necessary programs and reforms, and the VFW stands ready to assist in accomplishing that goal.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or the members of the Committee may have.
Information Required by Rule XI2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives
Pursuant to Rule XI2(g)(4) of the House of Representatives, the VFW has not received any federal grants in Fiscal Year 2011, nor has it received any federal grants in the two previous Fiscal Years.