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Congressional Testimony

TESTIMONY OF
JOHN M. MCWILLIAM
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY
VETERANS' EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING SERVICE
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

BEFORE THE

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

JUNE 3, 2009

"A NATIONAL COMMITMENT TO END VETERANS' HOMELESSNESS"

Chairman Filner, Ranking Member Buyer, and members of the Committee:

I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss how the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) fulfills its mission of providing veterans and transitioning service members with the resources and services to succeed in the 21st century workforce and, particularly, VETS' work in helping to combat veteran homelessness.

We accomplish our mission through three distinct functions: (1) employment and training programs; (2) transition assistance services; and (3) enforcement of relevant federal laws and regulations. Our employment and training programs include a state grant program, which is allocated to the states by a statutory formula, and a number of competitive grant programs. VETS' transition assistance services are provided through employment workshops and direct services for separating military members, including those who are seriously wounded and injured. Our enforcement programs include investigation of complaints filed by veterans and other protected individuals under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), assessment of complaints alleging violation of statutes requiring Veterans' Preference in federal hiring, and implementation and collection of information regarding veteran employment by federal contractors.

As the primary focus of this hearing is homeless veterans, in my testimony I will first describe VETS' enforcement programs, transition assistance programs, and employment and training grant programs, and conclude with an in-depth description of the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. All of our activities — enforcement, transition assistance, and employment and training — form an effective front line in the prevention of veteran homelessness. Our Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program is effective in helping those who do become homeless reestablish themselves as self-sufficient, productive and valued members of our society.

Enforcement Programs

VETS has three enforcement programs that protect service members' employment and reemployment rights and provide employment opportunities for veterans: USERRA, Veterans' Preference, and the Federal Contractor Program. Our USERRA and Veterans' Preference programs investigate complaints filed by service members and veterans who allege their USERRA or Veterans' Preference rights have been violated. USERRA provides employment and reemployment rights to returning service members, including National Guard and Reserve members, and prohibits discrimination due to military obligations. Veterans' Preference provides that eligible veterans receive certain consideration when applying for federal employment. VETS provides technical assistance to inform veterans, service members and employers of their rights and responsibilities, and thoroughly investigates complaints by service members and veterans under these laws. We also made it easier for a service member to file a USERRA or Veterans' Preference complaint by providing a system for on-line complaint filing. VETS promulgates regulations, and collects and compiles data on the Federal Contractor Program Veterans' Employment Report from Federal contractors and subcontractors who receive a Federal contract at an amount at or above certain statutory thresholds.

Transition Programs

VETS provides transition assistance through two programs: Transition Assistance Program (TAP) employment workshops and the Recovery and Employment Assistance Lifelines (REALifelines) program. TAP was established to meet the needs of separating service members during their period of transition into civilian life by offering job-search assistance and related services. TAP employment workshops consist of comprehensive workshops at military installations worldwide. Workshop attendees learn about job searches, career decision-making, current occupational and labor market conditions, resume and cover letter preparation, and interviewing techniques. Participants also receive an evaluation of their employability relative to the job market, as well as information on the most current veterans' benefits. Since 1990, TAP employment workshops have provided job preparation assistance to over two million separating and retiring military members. During Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, VETS held 3,525 workshops in the United States for 120,875 participants, and 579 workshops for 9,796 participants at overseas locations. The Department's FY 2010 budget requests an additional $3.5 million to allow TAP to offer expanded services for spouses and family members of separating and retiring service members, including those with limited English proficiency.

House Report 108-636, which accompanied the appropriation enactment for Fiscal Year 2005, instructed the Secretary of Labor to add a module on homelessness prevention to the TAP curriculum. This module, which includes a presentation on risk factors for homelessness, a self-assessment of risk factors, and contact information for preventative assistance associated with homelessness, is now included in our TAP Manual and in all of our TAP employment workshops.

VETS developed the REALifelines program in FY 2004 to provide one-on-one employment assistance to wounded and injured service members and veterans to help them transition into the civilian workforce. Through the end of FY 2008, the program has served over 7,000 injured and wounded service members.

Employment and Training Programs

VETS administers one formula grant and two competitive grant programs.

Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG): The JVSG program is the flagship of VETS' employment and training programs. This program offers employment and training services to eligible veterans through formula grants to states. Under the formula, funds are allocated to State Workforce Agencies in proportion to the number of veterans seeking employment within their state relative to the number of veterans seeking employment in all states. VETS' transition programs and competitive grant programs all work through JVSG-funded staff to access the wide array of employment and training services for which veterans receive priority access. The grants support two state staff positions: Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists and Local Veterans' Employment Representatives (LVER).

DVOP specialists provide intensive services to meet the employment needs of disabled veterans and other eligible veterans, with the maximum emphasis on serving those who are economically or educationally disadvantaged, including homeless veterans, and veterans with barriers to employment. DVOP specialists are actively involved in outreach efforts to increase program participation among those with the greatest barriers to employment. During Program Year (PY) 2007, DVOP specialists served 350,318 participants, transitioning service members, veterans and other eligible persons, with a 64.2% entered employment rate, and an employment retention rate of 81.7%.

The role of the LVER is to develop increased hiring opportunities within the local workforce by raising the awareness of employers of the availability and the benefit of hiring veterans, including those with disabilities. LVERs conduct outreach to employers and engage in advocacy efforts with hiring executives to increase employment opportunities for veterans and help veterans get and keep good jobs. During PY 2007, LVER staff served 363,481 participants, transitioning service members, veterans and other eligible persons, with a 64.3% entered employment rate and an employment retention rate of 81.6%.

Another role of LVERs is to facilitate the employment, training and placement services furnished to veterans in the state. To meet the specific needs of veterans, particularly veterans with barriers to employment, DVOP and LVER staff are thoroughly familiar with the full range of job development services and training programs available at the State Workforce Agency American Job Centerss and Department of Veterans' Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) service locations.

Veterans Workforce Investment Program (VWIP): VWIP funds competitively awarded grants and contracts that stimulate the development of effective service delivery systems and that assist veterans with complex employment problems to reintegrate into meaningful employment. In PY 2007, VWIP grants totaling $6.9 million provided training for 3,625 veterans, with a placement rate of 61%.

In FY 2009, VWIP received funding in the amount of $7,641,000 that will assist 3,700 veterans. The FY 2010 funding level requested for VWIP is $9,641,000, an increase of $2,000,000 over the amount funded for FY 2009 that will serve 4,600 participants. Projects that support training for green jobs will receive priority consideration.

Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program (HVRP): HVRP is the only Federal nationwide program focusing exclusively on employment of veterans who are homeless. HVRP provides employment and training services to help reintegrate homeless veterans into meaningful employment and address the complex problems they face.

HVRP grants are awarded competitively to state and local workforce investment boards; state agencies; local public agencies; and private non-profit organizations, including faith-based organizations and neighborhood partnerships. HVRP grantees provide an array of services utilizing a holistic case management approach that directly assists homeless veterans and provides training services to help them to successfully transition into the labor force. Homeless veterans receive occupational, classroom, and on-the-job training as well as job search and placement assistance, including follow-up services.

Grantees provide services through a client-centered case management approach and network with Federal, State, and local resources for veteran support programs. This includes working with Federal, State, and local agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Social Security Administration, the local Continuum of Care agencies and organizations, State Workforce Agencies, and local American Job Centers.

VETS requested a total of $35,330,000 for the HVRP for FY 2010, an increase of $9,000,000 (34%) above the FY 2009 funding level. For PY 2008, $23,620,000 was appropriated for HVRP, an eight percent increase over PY 2007. In PY 2008, HVRP grantees will serve 14,000 homeless veterans; in PY 2009, which will begin in July 2009, HVRP will serve 15,500 homeless veterans. VETS plans to serve 21,000 homeless veterans in PY 2010. During PY 2007, HVRP grantees served 12,932 homeless veterans. The employment placement rate was 64%. The costs for serving this challenging population were $1,686 per participant and $2,647 per placement.

In PY 2008, VETS awarded a total of 91 HVRP grants, including 16 newly competed grants and 75 current grants for second- and third-year funding. HVRP also provided second-year funding for two cooperative agreements to assist in developing the HVRP National Technical Assistance Center. The Center provides technical assistance to current grantees, potential applicants and the public; gathers grantee best practices; conducts employment-related research on homeless veterans; carries out regional grantee training sessions and self-employment boot camps; and performs outreach to the employer community in order to increase job opportunities for veterans.

VETS utilizes a portion of HVRP funds to support stand down activities. A stand down is an event held in a local community where a variety of social services are provided to homeless veterans. Stand down organizers partner with local business and social service providers to provide critical services such as: showers and haircuts; meals; legal advice; medical and dental examinations and treatment; and information on veterans' benefits and opportunities for employment and training.

VETS allows competitive grantees to use $10,000 of their existing funds per year to support stand down events, since they are an effective means of outreach. Stand down events are a gateway for many homeless veterans into a structured housing and reintegration program.

In addition, VETS funds HVRP eligible entities (that do not have a competitive HVRP grant) to support a stand down event. During FY 2008, VETS awarded $351,000 in non-competitive grants for 46 stand down events that provided direct assistance to 3,789 homeless veterans.

That concludes my statement, and I would be happy to respond to any questions.