In testimony submitted to the House Veterans Affairs Committee on July 15, the Legion's Economic Division Assistant Director Bob Madden wrote, "(We) applaud this committee for the attention given to the troubling rise in veterans' unemployment. This slate of legislation addresses many of the key concerns of our 2.4 million members."
Chief among the bills is the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act of 2011, H.R. 2433. Among its provisions is the payment of "retraining assistance" for veterans 35 to 60 years old, who are not eligible for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It extends to older veterans the opportunity to pursue a post-service education at a community college or technical school which leads to an associate's degree or certificate. The bill, say its sponsors, is designed to provide training for high-demand occupations such as "green jobs." Its provisions are not unlike the Community-Based Job Training Grants program now being offered by the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.
In lauding the bill, Madden said it "addresses one of the little known facts of veterans' unemployment: though the percentages of younger, unemployed veterans is slightly higher, the vast majority of unemployed veterans are of an older age group and require retraining of job skills not necessarily covered by education benefits directed at younger veterans. Reaching these veterans would provide real and tangible help."
The lack of recognition of service-acquired skills by some civilian licensing and certification entities is also addressed in the VOW Act. The bill authorizes VA and DoL to complete a study of 10 military occupational specialties in an effort to "reduce barriers to certification and licensure for transitioning members of the Armed Forces and veterans ... promote credentialing of members of the Armed Forces (and) identify best practices that can be leveraged by all services to increase the transferability of military education, training, experience, and skills."
In his testimony, Madden endorsed the proposal by saying "better understanding of credentialing and certification is necessary to help civilian employers recognize the job skills learned in service closely mirror those required in the non-military world. There is no good reason a military driver should not be equally qualified to drive trucks in the civilian world, or that a corpsman is not qualified to serve as an EMT. Better attention to the certification and licensure process is needed."
The VOW Act, along with companion bill H.R. 1941, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, strengthens the Department of Defense's Transition Assistance Program (TAP). TAP assists military personnel, and their families, leaving the service make the transition back to civilian life by providing job counseling and related services.
TAP is currently a voluntary program offered at major military installations, but proposed legislation would make participation mandatory. "(These bills) recognize the essential nature of a mandatory Transition Assistance Program and is fully supported by The American Legion," Madden said. "There is no reason this necessary hand-off between the military and civilian worlds should not be made mandatory."
A third bill favored by The American Legion would improve veterans' access to employment, education and transition information by directing VA to better publicize its VetSuccess website
For the past few years, unemployment among veterans has been significantly and consistently greater than the overall jobless rate. Last year, for instance, the unemployment rate for Gulf War II-era veterans, those who have served since 9/11, averaged 11.5 percent in comparison to 9.4 percent for non-veterans. Veterans ages 18 to 24 were even worse off: more than one in five were unemployed. The situation, say observers, is little better this year.