On Nov. 15, The American Legion's influence was evident during a congressional committee hearing. The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee met for a "Review of Veterans Employment Challenges and Initiatives of the 112th Congress." Staff from the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service (DOL-VETS), Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) and Texas Veterans Commission offered their views and answered committee members' questions concerning current and anticipated veterans' employment challenges.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., pointed to the unemployment rate among veterans: a lower than national average of 6.3 percent for veterans overall, but a higher than average of 10 percent among Post-9/11 veterans. DOL-VETS Assistant Secretary for Operations & Management John Moran, feels the situation could worsen.
"An estimated 300,000 servicemembers, including Guard and Reserve, will separate and leave the military each year over the next five years," he said. "That represents approximately 1.5 million individuals who will be looking to start new careers in a challenging economic environment. The nation is rightfully focused more than ever on ensuring that America fulfills its obligations to these servicemembers, veterans and their families."
VA's Curtis Coy spoke on a more positive note about legislative triumphs on behalf of veterans. These include the passage of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 — a Legion backed measure — and implementation of the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) for older job seekers. Creation of the successful VRAP was reportedly inspired by Legion discussions with House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller and others.
Coy also spoke of VA's job fairs success in concert with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This reflects American Legion participation as Legion posts continue to host an ongoing series of Chamber and VA-sponsored hiring events.
During the hearing's question and answer period, subcommittee member Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., lauded this year's enactment of the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act of 2012. This legislation, supported by the Legion, directs federal agencies to streamline their licensing and credentialing practices by taking into account military training, skills and experience possessed by servicemembers and veterans. Both House sponsor Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Senate sponsor Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., paid a special tribute to the Legion for their successful congressional floor arguments favoring the bill. Nelson read a letter of support from Past National Commander Fang Wong into the Congressional Record.
Walz also talked of his concern about a backlog of first payments to Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits applicants, citing examples of veterans undergoing financial hardship and stress as they awaited their school funds from VA. VA's Moran answered Walz's questions by pointing to a recently instituted automation system that is now beginning to speed benefits processing times while noting that the blacklog is due, in part, to the success of the latest iteration of GI Bill and, thus, a record number of applicants for its benefits. The original World War II-era GI Bill was the work of the Legion with its successors being heavily influenced by Legion lobbying.
Subcommittee member Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., touched on a Legion connected topic as he urged quick, lame-duck Senate session passage of his House-approved bill, H.R. 4057. The bill mandates greater transparency of information offered to veterans by educational institutions wishing to recruit them as GI Bill students. It is legislation favored by The American Legion.