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American Legion urges Congress to give jobless veterans “proper training and tools” for new careers

Washington (April 19, 2010) – Testifying last week before a House subcommittee, an expert witness from The American Legion urged Congress to give veterans the proper training and tools to begin new careers after they leave military service.

 “There are thousands of veterans available for work, but they lack marketable, technological skills, especially for jobs that exist in the information-age economy,” said Mark Walker, deputy director for the Legion's economic division.  He told the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity that a key problem in helping more veterans get jobs is “clearly a lack of adequate funding.”

Another key difficulty faced by job-hunting veterans, according to Walker, is the fact that their military job training and experience cannot be used to qualify for certification and licensing in the civilian world. This means that jobless veterans must take additional training courses before they can be hired; these courses are often offered at vocational schools, which are not covered by current GI Bill education benefits.

 “The American Legion supports efforts that require DoD to take appropriate steps to ensure that servicemembers be trained, tested, evaluated and issued any license or certification that may be required in the civilian workforce – prior to separation,” Walker told the subcommittee

The funding shortage Walker referred to affects civilian job training under the Veterans Workforce Investment Program (VWIP), part of the Dept. of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS). While the program's funding was increased to $9.6 million – two million more than in fiscal 2009 – that amount allows it to operate in only 15 states, according to Walker.  While VWIP funding is moving in the right direction, The American Legion wants the budget baseline “increased to allow VETS to train eligible veterans in all 50 states in (fiscal year) 2011.”

Walker also testified that The American Legion “is eager to see VETS grow; and especially would like to see greater expansion of entrepreneurial-based, self-employment opportunity training…. In order for the VETS program to assist these veterans to achieve their goals, it needs to:

  • Expand its outreach efforts with creative initiatives designed to improve employment and training services for veterans;
  • Provide employers with a labor pool of quality applicants with marketable and transferable job skills;
  • Provide information on identifying military occupations that require licenses, certificates or other credentials at the local, state, or national levels;
  • Eliminate barriers to recently separated servicemembers and assist in the transition from military service to the civilian labor market;
  • Strive to be a proactive agent between the business and veterans communities to provide greater employment opportunities for veterans; and,
  • Increase training opportunities, support, and options for veterans who seek self-employment and entrepreneurial careers.”

The American Legion supports new legislation (introduced by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.) that would authorize $60 million for the next ten years to fund MOST (Military Occupational Specialty Transition), a program that would help veterans convert their military experience into civilian job skills.

Welch's proposed MOST program is modeled after the highly successful Service Members' Occupational Conversion and Training Act (SMOCTA). “SMOCTA was originally established to respond to the needs of veterans who had been hurt by the downsizing of the military in the 1990s by providing job training and employment to eligible veterans,” Walker told the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D.

“Veterans eligible for assistance under SMOCTA were those with a primary or secondary military occupational specialty that DoD determined were not readily transferable to the civilian workforce, or for those veterans with a service-connected disability rating of 30 percent or higher,” Walker said in a hearing that included panelists from The American Legion and five other veterans service organizations.

The American Legion is also urging that the process of determining veterans' eligibility for the VR&E (Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment) Service be substantially streamlined and bolstered with a larger, properly trained staff – particularly more employment coordinators.

 “The mission of the VR&E program is to help qualified, service-disabled veterans achieve independence in daily living and, to the maximum extent feasible, obtain and maintain suitable employment,” Walker said. He noted that, while veterans enrolled in VR & E's education and training programs receive a monthly stipend, those who use the service to find jobs do not.

 “This policy leaves out needed assistance for veterans looking for immediate employment, which could lead that veteran into a different track and miss out on early entry into the civilian workforce,” Walker said.

According to the Dept. of Labor, veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are among the hardest hit of unemployed Americans, with an alarming jobless rate of 14.7 percent. Among younger veterans (18 to 24 years old), the 2009 unemployment rate was 21.1 percent. 

Two more experts from The American Legion's Economic Division are set to testify before congressional committees later this month. The division's assistant director, Bob Madden, will discuss implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee on April 21 and Joe Sharpe, division director, will talk about the status of veterans' small businesses April 29 before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

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