The jobs picture for the nation's veterans improved significantly last year, particularly for those who have served since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Labor (DoL) reported March 20. The annual report from the Bureau of Labor Statics shows that the unemployment rate for the most recent generation of veterans fell from 12.1 percent in 2011 to 9.9 percent last year. About a third of the people who make up that category of veterans served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or both.
The DoL report reinforces that, as a whole, veterans actually have an easier time finding work than nonveterans. The unemployment rate stood at 7 percent last year for all veterans, compared to 7.9 percent for nonveterans, according to the report. However, the nation's youngest veterans continue to have a harder time finding work than their nonveteran peers, and nearly one in five are unemployed.
As of February, the national unemployment rate was 7.7 percent. For Iraq war veterans, the jobless rate was 9.4 percent. For Iraq war women veterans, the rate was 11.6 percent, which is down from 15.7 percent the previous month.
In other news:
Letters of support: Several letters of support were issued by The American Legion last week to members of Congress:
• On March 19, letters of support were sent to Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, giving our organization's support for their draft legislation that restricts foreign assistance to Pakistan until DoD's tuition assistance program is fully funded. Legislation restoring the program later passed in both the House and Senate.
• On March 20, a letter went to Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada, giving our organization's support  for H.R. 258, legislation entitled the Stolen Valor Act of 2013. This measure would amend title 18, U.S. Code, with respect to fraudulent representations about having received military decorations or medals.
• On March 20, letters went out to Sens. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Thad Cochran of Mississippi – the chairwoman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee – and Rep. Bill Young of Florida and Pete Visclosky of Oregon – the chairman and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee – giving our organization's support for continued direct funding in fiscal year 2014 for the Peer Reviewed Vision Trauma Program, requesting minimum funding of $10 million. This program provides research for veterans who suffered from serious penetrating eye wounds and other eye trauma and traumatic brain injury-related visual dysfunction.
• On March 21, letters went to Sen. Susan Collins of Maine for S. 573, FOR VETS Act of 2013, and Rep. Dan Benishek of Michigan for H.R. 1171, FOR VETS Act of 2013, in support  of their respective bills regarding federal surplus property. If enacted, this bill would enable Veterans Service Organizations like The American Legion to gain increased opportunities for federal surplus property to educate, train and improve the quality of life for veterans. The Legion's Resolution 331 supports this legislation.
Base closings testimony: The Legislative staff attended a hearing by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on March 14 regarding base closings. In recent hearings about sequestration, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Odierno has mentioned the necessity to eliminate excess infrastructure as the Army shrinks in size due to the reduction in strength. He pointed out that sequestration will speed up the pace of getting smaller, meaning more infrastructure will be excess sooner. However, Wittman closed the hearing by saying that he did not hear any testimony that would convince him there is a need for a round of base closings at this time, nor is there money to support it. He remains opposed.
Claims processing backlog: On March 20, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee held a hearing  on the Department of Veterans Affairs' plans for employee training, accountability and workload management to improve the disability claims process. Chairman Jeff Miller of Florida kept VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey on the defensive for most of the hearing, challenging VA for answers about efforts to transform the benefits claims procedures in light of outrageous record backlogs. Despite VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's goal in 2010 of breaking the back of the backlog by 2015, VA has continued to regress. The number of claims in inventory has more than doubled to over 900,000 in three years, and the number of claims delinquent in excess of 125 days has gone to nearly 70 percent of their total claims, from only 36 percent when the goal was set forth.
Small business efforts: The Economic Division testified  last week on the issue of challenges facing veteran-owned small businesses before the joint session of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee and the House Small Business Contracting & Workforce Subcommittee. The American Legion supports verification of service-disabled veteran and veteran-owned small businesses by the Department of Veterans Affairs; however, the Legion remains critical of (1) VA's extreme interpretations of regulations, (2) the way VA trains their examiners to find fault with applications, (3) sections in 38 CFR 74 that hinder the growth of small business, (4) the lengthy process/current backlog, and lastly (5) the lack of transparency in the way final denial decisions are made. The Legion's Resolution 108. 
System Worth Saving: Richard Dumancas, deputy director for claims, and Past National Commander Paul A. Morin conducted a System Worth Savings site visit to the South Texas Veterans Healthcare System in San Antonio on March 19-20. The staff also conducted a women veterans health care-focused town hall meeting at American Legion Post No. 2 in San Antonio on March 18. The Health Policy Unit is currently preparing for SWS visits in April in Madison, Wisc.; Spokane, Wash.; and St. Cloud, Minn.
Claims: During the week ending March 15, the Board of Veterans' Appeals reached dispositions on 133 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 73.6 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 37 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion's arguments. In 61 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veterans' claims which mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 25 (18.8 percent) were outright denials.
POW/MIA Update: Staff met last week via conference call with the U.S Government Accountability Office (GAO) staff members who are finishing a report to Congress on DoD remains accounting efforts. GAO staff were interested in the Legion's positions on the issue and where improvements might be made.