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Congressional Testimony

STATEMENT of

Raymond Jefferson
Assistant Secretary
Veterans' Employment and Training
U.S. Department of Labor

submitted for the record

Committee on veterans' affairs
UNITED STATES senate

October 21, 2009

Chairman Akaka and Ranking Member Burr, and distinguished members of the Committee:

I am pleased to submit the following statement for the record of the legislative hearing held on October 21, 2009. In your letter of invitation, you asked for comments on two legislative proposals pending action by the United States Senate, S.1237 the "Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans with Children Act of 2009" and S. 1607 the "Wounded Veteran Job Security Act of 2009".

S. 1237, the "Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans with Children Act of 2009"

Title 38, Section 2021 provides the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) with authority to administer the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP). S. 1237 would amend the statute by adding a new Section 2021A, authorizing VETS to award grants to eligible programs and facilities that provide dedicated services — job training, counseling, job placement services, including job readiness, literacy and skills training, and child care — for homeless women Veterans and Veterans with children. These additional services to our neediest veterans will give them the assistance they need to make the transition into the civilian workforce, and to provide a stable future for themselves and their families. The Department, other Administration agencies, stand ready to provide technical assistance to the Committee to ensure that a new grant program builds on existing service provisions to maximize the benefit the Veterans and their children.

Authorization for the underlying HVRP statute expired on September 30, 2009. While we anticipate an appropriation that would allow for these grants to continue, we encourage the Congress to include reauthorization of HVRP in S. 1237. We strongly support S.1237 along with the reauthorization of HVRP.

The second bill for which you requested comments, is S. 1607 the "Wounded Veteran Job Security Act of 2009." The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) provides returning Service Members, including members of the National Guard and Reserve, with the right to reemployment and other civilian employment benefits upon their return from military service, and prohibits discrimination due to past, present or future military obligations. Congress defined the purposes of USERRA as "to encourage non-career service in the uniformed services by eliminating or minimizing the disruption to the lives of persons performing service in the uniformed services as well as to their employers, their fellow employees, and their communities, by providing for the prompt reemployment of such persons upon their completion of such service; and to prohibit discrimination against persons because of their service in the uniformed services." (38 U.S.C. § 4301, Purposes and Sense of Congress)

S. 1607, as currently drafted, would amend USERRA to provide the right to retention in employment and other benefits to any Veteran absent from employment to receive treatment for a service- connected disability. This would expand USERRA well beyond its original purposes and could have the unintended consequence of making employers reluctant to continue providing employment opportunities to veterans. The Department agrees with the value of assuring that individuals with service-connected disabilities are not forced to choose between their jobs and getting the treatment they need. As stated in our March 2009 Statement for the Record regarding H.R. 466, we remain willing and available to work with the bill's sponsors to help craft an approach that: 1) best serves the goal of protecting the jobs of individuals who need treatment for service-connected disabilities while balancing USERRA protections and continued employer demand for Service Members and Veterans; 2) best addresses USERRA's original purposes; and 3) minimizes the possibility of counterproductive unintended consequences.

At my confirmation hearing in June, I assured this Committee that if I had the honor of being confirmed as Assistant Secretary, VETS would be committed to the following: 1) increasing access to and participation in its programs, and improving the employment outcomes for those participants; 2) helping service members transition seamlessly into quality civilian employment and careers; 3) boosting USERRA's impact by increasing awareness of and commitment to it, while also reducing USERRA-related issues; 4) investing in VETS' team members; and 5) communicating and collaborating with stakeholders inside and outside the federal government to better serve Veterans and achieve their employment needs. Key to fulfilling these commitments is VETS' ability to expand employment opportunities for Veterans, particularly Veterans with service-connected disabilities. The Department would welcome the opportunity to work with the Committee to provide technical assistance to ensure that the bill best serves the goal of protecting the jobs of individuals who need treatment for service-connected disabilities while balancing USERRA protections and continued employer demand for Service Members and Veterans.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide our views on these two bills.