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Congressional Testimony

STATEMENT of

John M. McWilliam
Deputy ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR OPERATIONS AND MANAGEMENT
Veterans' Employment and Training SERVICE
U.S. Department of Labor

BEFORE THE

honorable arlen specter
united states SENATE

Field Hearing — PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA

NOVEMBER 11, 2009

Senator Specter and distinguished members of the Committee:

Thank you for inviting us to appear before you today to discuss unemployment, underemployment, and homelessness among our Nation's Veterans.

The mission of the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) is to provide Veterans and transitioning Service Members with the resources and services to succeed in the workforce by maximizing their employment opportunities, protecting their employment rights, and meeting labor market demands with qualified Veterans.

We accomplish our mission through three distinct functions: (1) conducting employment and training programs; (2) enforcing relevant Federal laws and regulations; and (3) providing transition assistance services.

VETS administers two employment and training programs through formula grants to States that directly meet the goals of its mission: (1) the Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP) and (2) the Local Veterans' Employment Representatives (LVER) program. DVOP specialists provide outreach services and intensive employment assistance to meet the employment needs of eligible Veterans. LVER staff conduct outreach to employers and engage in advocacy efforts with hiring executives to increase employment opportunities for Veterans, encourage the hiring of disabled Veterans, and generally assist Veterans to gain and retain employment.

VETS also administers two competitive grant programs. To meet the needs of homeless Veterans and help reintegrate them into the workforce, VETS administers the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP). Veterans with significant barriers to employment or service-connected disabilities are also served through the Veterans Workforce Investment Program (VWIP), a focused and innovative training program that coordinates services available through other VETS administered programs.

Our enforcement programs investigate complaints filed by Veterans and other protected individuals under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), assess complaints alleging violation of statutes requiring Veterans' Preference in Federal hiring, and implement and collect information regarding Veteran employment by Federal contractors.

VETS' transition assistance services are offered through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which provides employment workshops and direct services for separating Service Members, including those who are seriously wounded and injured.

Unemployment Amongst Veterans

Historically, over the past 20 years, Veterans have had a slightly lower unemployment rate than the general population. For September 2009, Veterans 18 years old and over had an unemployment rate of 8.3%, compared to 9.3 % for non-Veterans. In Pennsylvania, the rate for Veterans was 9.9%, and for non-Veterans 7.5%.

There is one group of Veterans — those age 20 to 24 — who have traditionally had higher unemployment than non-Veterans in the same age group. In September 2009, Veterans aged 20 to 24 years old had an unemployment rate of 18%, while non-Veterans in the same age group had a rate of 15%.

There are a number of reasons the unemployment rate of young Veterans is usually higher than that of their non-Veteran counterparts. First, unlike their civilian counterparts, all young Veterans have recently undergone a significant labor market transition They are generally first-term enlistees who are getting out of the military and entering the civilian job market for the first time, or are going to school and waiting for a new semester to begin. Some take a well-deserved break after military service. Some use unemployment compensation while trying to land the right job.

Any young Veteran who is unemployed is a serious concern to DOL, and we have undertaken research to better understand the path young Veterans take as they transition from military to civilian occupations. This research has told us that the young Veteran has a high unemployment rate immediately upon leaving the service, but that after 39 weeks that rate approached that of all Veterans. We are working to increase young Service Member participation in TAP, to tailor TAP employment workshops to the unique needs of young Service Members, and to encourage these young Service Members to use the services of their local One Stop Career Centers.

Transition Assistance Program

TAP is a Department of Defense (DoD) program that partners with the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). TAP has four components:

  1. Pre-separation counseling — this is mandatory for all transitioning Service Members and is provided by the military services;
  2. TAP employment workshops — these are voluntary on the part of the transitioning Service Member and are administered through DOL and its state partners;
  3. VA benefits briefing — these briefings are also voluntary and are administered by VA; and
  4. Disabled Transition Assistance Program — also voluntary and administered by VA.

DOL Employment Workshops

Since 1991, when DOL began providing employment workshops pursuant to section 502 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1991 (P.L. 101-510), over one million separating and retiring military members and their spouses have been provided employment and job training assistance and other transitional services. DOL was further directed to provide these services at overseas locations pursuant to section 309 of the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-183).

VETS began facilitating TAP workshops at overseas military installations where, by previous interagency agreement, DoD had provided TAP workshops since the program's inception. We are currently conducting TAP employment workshops at 55 sites overseas, including Germany, Japan, Italy, Korea, Guam and the United Kingdom. Our mission is to provide TAP at every location requested by the Armed Services or National Guard and Reserve Component.

VETS provides employment search workshops based on projections made by each of the Armed Services and DHS (for the U.S. Coast Guard). DVOPs and LVERs are the primary source for TAP Employment Workshop facilitation stateside. However, because of the distance between many state employment offices and the military installations, as well as the rapid increase in Workshop participants, contract facilitators were added in early FY 1992 and supplemented by Federal staff in FY 1996. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania currently uses contract facilitators.

DoD recently set a goal for TAP Employment Workshop participation of 85 percent of separating Service Members. Eighty-four percent of active-duty transitioning Service Members currently attend the DOL TAP Employment Workshops, a 30% increase in participation since 2001. TAP Employment Workshop participation is expected to increase over the next year, and we plan to target TAP Employment Workshop delivery to spouses of separating Service Members, including those with limited English proficiency.

In an effort to provide the same high level of instruction to all Service Members and spouses attending TAP Employment Workshops, VETS requires that all TAP facilitators receive training conducted by the National Veterans Training Institute (NVTI) at the University of Colorado in Denver. NVTI provides competency based training to further develop and enhance the professional skills of Veterans' employment and training service providers throughout the United States.

The current TAP Employment Workshop course curriculum covers two and one-half days of classroom instruction and provides information on a variety of topics including:

  • Career exploration;
  • Resume preparation;
  • Strategies for an effective job search;
  • Interview techniques;
  • Reviewing job offers;
  • Prevention of homelessness;
  • Entrepreneurship information; and
  • Other available support and assistance.

Reserve Component and National Guard Employment Workshop

In fact, since 2001, VETS has provided transition services to over 146,000 National Guard and Reserve Members. These transition services range in size and content from mobilization and demobilization briefings to the full scale TAP Employment Workshops. These transition services are provided in 43 states and the District of Columbia. In some states, National Guard and Reserve Members have been allowed to attend the regular TAP for Active Component Service Members. The services provided to the National Guard and Reserve Members are tailored to the needs and requests by the DoD.

To meet the transition needs of the National Guard and Reserves, in FY 2007, DOL directed the NVTI to develop a modular version of the TAP Employment Workshop, which helps better tailor the contents of the Workshop to suit different needs. The traditional TAP Employment Workshop was turned into a 15-module menu that Reserve and National Guard commanders may choose from in providing these services to their unit members. This training includes a mandatory, core module that covers local labor market information, USERRA, the American Job Centers system, small business opportunities, and the risks of homelessness. The other 14 modules consist of the current TAP employment workshop curriculum broken down into logical and connected blocks of instruction. This is not a new or separate curriculum for the Reserves and National Guard; rather it has been packaged to better serve this community.

Programs in Pennsylvania

I have provided information on what is being done to assist those Service Members transitioning from the military to civilian life. I would now like to focus on what we are doing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania averages more than 100 TAP workshops annually with nearly 4,000 transitioning Service Members in attendance. There are five TAP sites, encompassing all military service branches, including the U.S. Coast Guard.

A DVOP or LVER representative attends each workshop session to discuss their respective roles and responsibilities in providing job search assistance. This information is provided to help the Service Member contact a DVOP or LVER representative in his or her respective state to assist with re-integration into the local job market.

Our VETS' Director in Pennsylvania meets quarterly with all TAP site managers, a VA representative, and a representative from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania National Guard to discuss the TAP program and how it can be improved.

National Guard and Reserve Members in Pennsylvania are informed that they can attend TAP for up to 180 days after completion of their active duty commitment. LVER and DVOP staff in Pennsylvania have all been formally trained to facilitate TAP employment workshops either individually or on a unit basis.

Periodic USERRA briefings are conducted upon request and through outreach by VETS staff. Pennsylvania Army and Air National Guard units as well as Army Reserve have received briefings and USERRA outreach within the last six months. Briefings will be conducted in conjunction with the Operation Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program for the return of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard's 29th Brigade.

Closing

In closing, I again thank you for allowing me to address you today on this very important issue. I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.