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Congressional Testimony

STATEMENT OF
THE HONORABLE RAYMOND M. JEFFERSON
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR
VETERANS' EMPLOYMENT AND TRAINING
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
April 15, 2010
"STATUS OF VETERANS EMPLOYMENT"

 

Madam Chair, Ranking Member Boozman, and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for your service to our nation's Veterans and for the opportunity to testify before you today about what the Department of Labor's (DOL) Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) is doing to help our Veterans and transitioning Service Members.

VETS proudly serves Veterans and transitioning Service Members by providing resources and expertise to assist and prepare them to obtain meaningful careers, maximize their employment opportunities and protect their employment rights.

I am deeply humbled to have the privilege of serving our Nation as the Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training. Secretary Solis has been an incredible source of guidance and support, and has made Veterans and VETS one of her top priorities. Our programs are an integral part of Secretary Solis's vision of "Good Jobs for Everyone," and her commitment to help Veterans and their families get into the middle class and maintain stability.

Every day, we are reminded of the tremendous sacrifices made by our servicemen and women, and by their families and one way that we can honor those sacrifices is by providing them with the best possible services and programs our nation has to offer. Secretary Solis and I believe strongly that Veterans deserve the chance to find good jobs and VETS works closely with the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help them get there. All of us — and that certainly includes Congress as well as the Administration — have to work together to help our Veterans overcome the challenges they face to finding a good job when they return to civilian life.

Aspirations

The Secretary's guiding vision and the discussions I've had since my confirmation with Service Members, Veterans, Veterans' Service Organizations, private sector leaders, and employment and training professionals have informed five core aspirations that VETS will pursue during my tenure as Assistant Secretary:

  1. We will provide Veterans and transitioning Service Members a voice in the workplace by serving as the national focal point for Veterans' employment and training needs. Specifically this involves the following:
    1. Helping more Veterans by increasing awareness of our resources, making our programs more accessible, and improving the employment outcomes for those who participate in them.
    2. Improving communication and collaboration with partners and stakeholders.
    3. Paying close attention to populations with unique needs, especially Veterans and transitioning Service Members who are women, Native Americans, homeless, live in rural areas, or are wounded, ill or injured.
  2. We will create a better path to good jobs for Veterans through increased engagement with employers, with a particular emphasis on the private sector.
  3. We will help Service Members transition seamlessly into meaningful employment and careers while emphasizing success in emerging industries such as green jobs.
  4. We will facilitate a return to work for Service Members and protect vulnerable populations by increasing awareness of and commitment to USERRA's rules that protect Veterans.
  5. We will invest in VETS' team members and emphasize continuous improvement to better serve the Secretary's vision and the nation's Veterans.

Improvements in Current Programs

We have four main programs at VETS which serve the Secretary's goal of providing "Good Jobs for Everyone" that we are working to improve:

  • The Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG);
  • The Transition Assistance Program Employment Workshops (TAP);
  • The Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP); and
  • The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

Jobs for Veterans State Grants

The Jobs for Veterans State Grants helps Veterans find good jobs through services provided at American Job Centerss and other locations. Grants are provided to State Workforce Agencies to hire Veteran-dedicated staff such as Disabled Veteran Outreach Program specialists (DVOPs) and Local Veterans' Employment Representatives (LVERs), who serve as the "front line" for the employment and reemployment of our Nation's Veterans.

The Jobs for Veterans Act of 2002 (JVA) changed the DVOP and the LVER programs by making delivery of intensive services the principle focus for DVOP specialists and by providing LVERs with a dual mission of providing employer outreach and facilitating services. For FY 2011, the President's budget proposes an initiative that will more closely align the service delivery duties of DVOPs with providing intensive services, and continue to emphasize the LVER outreach to employers. We will accomplish this by beginning with a pilot and progressing to system-wide implementation.

  • Under the budget proposal, DVOPs will:
  • Offer tailored intensive services to Veterans with employment barriers; and
  • Reduce the emphasis on delivery of core services to Veterans.
  • LVERs will increase their emphasis on job development and employer outreach.

We expect to publish policy guidance this month, and then conduct pilot programs with full implementation by September 2011.

Also under the Jobs for Veterans Act of 2002, Veterans receive priority of service in all qualified job training programs that are directly funded, in whole or in part, by the Department of Labor, including programs offered at DOL-funded American Job Centers. The Department published regulations in 2009 to implement this rule, and recently, released joint guidance from VETS and DOL's Employment and Training Administration (ETA), which administers the Career Centers.

These Centers provide high-quality employment and training services at more than 3,000 locations across America and last year, helped over 1.5 million Veterans and provide an array of services including:

  • Skills assessment and interest surveys;
  • Career guidance;
  • Job search assistance;
  • Skills training for jobs in high-demand in specific local communities;
  • Child care; and
  • Transportation.

VETS is also collaborating with VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) service by stationing DVOP specialists at VA Regional Offices and other points of entry to VR&E services to help VR&E participants find good jobs.

Transition Assistance Program (TAP) Employment Workshops

DOL provides TAP Employment Workshops at military installations world-wide to make it easier for Service Members and their spouses to transition from military service to civilian employment. These are comprehensive two and one-half day employment workshops.

In response to external assessments and stakeholder feedback regarding TAP's performance, we are working closely with DoD, VA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to redesign the workshops to make them more relevant and engaging. Presently, the 2½ day workshop consists of about 240 slides that haven't been modernized in about 17 years. We need to and we will make them more engaging, relevant, and applicable to Veterans preparing to come home.

The FY 2011 budget establishes the TAP program as a separate budget activity to highlight the significant role this program plays in helping returning Service Members find good jobs. The requested increase of $1,000,000 in FY 2011 will be used to raise awareness that spouses are eligible to attend the program, and to provide the course to spouses in languages other than English.

We also worked with DoD, VA, and DHS late last year, to develop a multi-year, strategic plan for Service Members as they transition from the military. This effort goes beyond the TAP Employment Workshop and encompasses the entire transition experience. We're all committed to ensuring the plan is action-oriented and will have a measurable, positive impact. It will involve an increased emphasis on the employment needs of the Reserve components and Service Members who have been wounded, ill or injured.

Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP) and Veterans' Homelessness

Secretaries Solis, Shinseki, Sebelius, and Donovan share a commitment to eliminating homelessness among Veterans. Our appropriation for FY 2010 is $36,330,000 and we have requested an additional $5,000,000 for a total of $41,300,000 for FY 2011. We have strengthened our interagency collaboration at all levels to mobilize for this important and necessary goal. VETS' contribution to this effort will include the following:

  • Continue reaching out to homeless Veterans and assisting them in becoming reintegrated into the workforce through the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program. VETS expects to serve 21,000 participants in FY 2010. The requested increase of $5 million for FY 2011 will boost that number to an estimated 25,000 participants.
  • Through the Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program (IVTP), VETS will continue its efforts to help incarcerated Veterans and will coordinate these efforts with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the $36 million for HVRP in FY 2010, VETS plans to use $4 million for IVTP, which will serve approximately 1,500 Veterans, through 12 grants, who will be transitioning from incarceration back to society. We plan to continue this program at that level in FY 2011.
  • Of the $10 million increase for the HVRP in FY 2010, we will use up to $5 million for a major new undertaking — to provide customized employment services for homeless women Veterans and homeless Veterans with families, a population that is on the rise and in need of specialized services. We expect to fund about 25 grantees with this $5 million increase, and will continue this effort in FY 2011.

Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)

VETS is not only an employment and training agency; it is also a worker protection agency with a vital role in enforcing the employment and reemployment rights for uniformed Service Members.

VETS recently completed an assessment of USERRA in order to increase responsiveness to Veterans. Through this assessment we will move towards more consistent and high standards in our investigations, and determine other steps to improve the program and its outcomes.

We have also begun work on an electronic case management system to improve efficiency by eliminating unnecessary paper-work in our investigations. Access to this system will be shared with our Federal enforcement partners.

Finally, we are also working closely with the Office of Personnel Management to ensure that the Federal government serves as model employer in carrying out the provisions of USERRA.

Increased Engagement with Employers

In addition to improving current programs, VETS is working on new efforts to highlight the value of hiring Veterans to the private sector and making the Veterans hiring process more convenient and efficient.

There is tremendous opportunity for increased engagement with private employers and VETS is working with them and their organizations to enlist their advice and support:

  • On November 12, 2009, Secretary Solis and VETS participated in a major outreach initiative to promote Veterans' hiring sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The goal is to form a link between local private sector employers and the Veterans who are looking for employment through the American Job Centers. This event was an important first step in developing a partnership with the Chamber and as a result each of VETS' 52 state directors are now reaching out to regional and local Chambers of Commerce.
  • Last month, DOL's Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy, Kathy Martinez, and I facilitated a discussion with 50 human resources personnel at Chamber headquarters and, later this Spring, Secretary Solis will be having a similar discussion with 25 CEOs.
  • VETS is in the process of developing relationships with other important business associations, such as the Executive Leadership Council, Business Executives for National Security, business roundtables, economic development boards and high-tech associations.

Job Corps

In addition to working with the private sector and other Federal government partners, VETS is working with other agencies within DOL. For example, we're developing a program with Jobs Corps to encourage transitioning Service Members to enroll in Job Corps training.

The program will provide Veterans with the academic, career technical and social skills they need to become employable and independent in the civilian labor force. Residential and training space has been set aside at three Job Corps sites. In the pilot, a total of 300 Veterans will be chosen from selected TAP sites across the country to participate in this program and receive training in various fields including, advanced manufacturing, automotive repair, construction, finance, business, health care, homeland security, hospitality and culinary arts, information technology, renewable resources, retail sales and transportation.

Targeted Populations

There are several populations of Veterans who have historically been under-served whom VETS is developing additional tailored programs for, including Native American Veterans and Veterans who are wounded, injured, or ill.

  1. To gather input from Native Americans, Secretary Solis hosted a Summit of Tribal Leaders at DOL that VETS participated in, where the problems facing Native American Veterans in finding good jobs were discussed. Furthermore, VETS has recently completed a study on the employment needs of Native American Veterans living on tribal lands, which should be released within two months, and will also be participating in a number of additional Native American outreach events in 2010.
  2. To help the brave heroes who are wounded, ill or injured find good jobs VETS has two special initiatives:
    1. The Recovery and Employment Assistance Lifelines (REALifelines) provides one-on-one services to our wounded warriors to ease their transition into civilian employment. We have special REALifelines coordinators stationed at military treatment facilities on a full-time basis who provide services to wounded, injured, or ill personnel on those bases and at other nearby facilities.
    2. America's Heroes at Work (AHAW) is a joint initiative with DOL's Office of Disability Employment Policy. AHAW is an outreach and anti-stigma campaign that educates America's employers about the simple on-the-job accommodations and steps they can take to help Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury to excel in their careers. This program is the result of strong collaboration with DoD, VA and other Federal agencies and stakeholders.

Veterans' Green Energy Jobs Initiative

VETS also is working to prepare Veterans for the jobs of tomorrow and so in July 2009, we awarded 17 competitive grants under the Veterans' Workforce Investment Program, totaling $7.5 million to help train approximately 3,000 Veterans for jobs in green energy occupations. Fields of employment include energy efficiency, renewable energy, modern electric-power development and clean vehicles. This program will help Veterans overcome employment barriers and ease their transition into this growing industry. For FY 2010 we received an increase of $2,000,000, and plan to award up to an additional four grants in July, and will continue this program at that same funding level in FY 2011.

Federal Employment

I know that your committee is also interested in Veterans employment within the Federal government. BLS Deputy Commissioner Rones will offer more details on that subject but I can say that according to OPM Veterans made up 25.5% of the Federal work force for both fiscal years 2007 and 2008.

(Source: United States Office of Personnel Management Employment of Veterans in the Federal Executive Branch Fiscal Year 2008)

VETS is also leading the effort to implement Executive Order 13518 Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government, which President Obama signed on November 9, 2009. This order establishes a Council on Veterans' Employment co-chaired by Secretaries Shinseki and Solis with the Director of OPM serving as Vice Chair. The overall goal is to increase the number of Veterans in the Federal work force. Additionally, agencies are required to establish a Veterans Employment Program office, or designate an agency officer or employee with full time responsibility for its Veterans Employment Program. A new web site has been created www.fedshirevets.gov.

The Council has developed a Strategic Plan and established three work groups to cover skills development and employment, marketing Veterans suitability for employment, and providing information to Federal hiring managers. VETS has a representative on all three groups and chairs the Skills Development and Employment group.

Conclusion

Thank you for the opportunity to present some of what we're doing at VETS. We will continue working tirelessly, passionately and innovatively to help our Veterans and transitioning Service Members create meaningful lives, rewarding careers and become productive citizens and leaders in their communities.