Servicemen and women delay career advancements and college educations to serve our country. Often those same men and women return to civilian life as veterans with physical disabilities or personal problems and face daunting transitions back to the workforce or higher education. The American Legion's Economic Division, a major part of the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation pillar, works to improve the civilian lives of veterans in numerous ways, including support for:
The Legion continues to be a leading voice in the fight to improve employment opportunities for veterans and their families. The Legion understands that the private sector must be engaged, educated and encouraged to improve their hiring practices. The federal government must also continue to push its veterans-hiring initiatives to achieve meaningful results at all levels. In addition, the executive branch must direct effective improvements in hiring practices at all federal agencies. The legislative branch must continue its efforts to improve laws that significantly affect veteran employment, while providing adequate funding for employment programs and services that assist veterans and their families in obtaining gainful employment.
Veterans Employment And Training Service (VETS)
The Department of Labor's VETS program offers employment and training services to eligible veterans through its Jobs for Veterans state grants program. The mission of VETS is to promote the economic security of America's veterans. The Legion is eager to see this program grow, and would like to see greater expansion of entrepreneurial, self-employment opportunity training. Such services will continue to be crucial as today's active-duty servicemembers, especially those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, transition into the civilian workforce. Adequate funding will allow the programs to increase staffing to provide comprehensive case-management job assistance to disabled and other eligible veterans. For the VETS program to assist these veterans to achieve their goals, it needs to:
Implement recent reforms to the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), so that veterans can be better informed on education, employment and business opportunities as they transition into the civilian workforce.
Expand outreach efforts with creative initiatives designed to improve employment and training services for veterans.
Provide information on identifying military occupations that provide qualifying training for required 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.
The Legion believes staffing levels for the Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP) and Local Veterans' Employment Representatives (LVER) should match the needs of the veterans community in each state and should not be based solely on the fiscal needs of the state government. Therefore, the Legion believes that VETS should remain a national program with federal oversight and accountability.
Additionally, the Legion seeks legislation that will transfer all DVOPs and LVERs from the state agencies to VETS for supervision and oversight to ensure that the individuals employed to serve veterans are not used for other programs.
Work Opportunity Tax Credits
One measure that has provided incentives for bringing veterans into the civilian workforce is the use of tax credits for businesses that hire veterans. The Legion continues its support for Work Opportunity Tax Credits provided to employers under the VOW ACT of 2011.
Keystone XL Pipeline
The Keystone XL pipeline is the proposed 1,661-mile expansion of the existing Keystone pipeline system, running from Canada through the midwestern and southern United States. While the current pipeline has terminus points in Patoka, Ill., and Cushing, Okla., the proposed extension would lay new pipe from Hardisty, Canada, to Steele City, Kan., and from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas, and Houston.
The United States consumes 19 million barrels of oil every day and imports more than 12 million barrels per day. Consequently, a secure supply of crude oil from our ally in Canada, rather than reliance on imported oil from more volatile parts of the world, is critical to our national energy security. More importantly, Canada has indicated that if it cannot build a pipeline to sell its crude oil to the United States, it would build a pipeline westward to export oil to China. Thus, construction of this pipeline is of vital importance to our national security.
The Legion is concerned about the thousands of American veterans from past conflicts, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, who are currently unemployed. The Keystone XL pipeline will provide jobs for veterans. TransCanada, the company behind the project, estimates that, once the United States regulatory review process is concluded, it could put 13,000 Americans to work. Pipe fitters, welders, mechanics, electricians, heavy equipment operators and other types of skilled labor would be employed on the pipeline. Additionally, about 7,000 manufacturing jobs would be created across the country. Furthermore, local businesses along the pipeline's path would benefit from about 118,000 jobs the pipeline will create through increased business for local goods and services.
The Keystone pipeline system will play an important role in linking a secure supply of Canadian crude oil to U.S. refining markets, significantly improving the North American oil energy supply and generating thousands of jobs for Americans. The Legion believes this project must be approved now and supports legislative efforts to get construction started.
Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect in August 2009, there has been dramatic growth in the number of beneficiaries and benefits payments for study at post-secondary institutions. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) supports more than 800,000 students through its education benefits programs, and the Department of Defense (DoD) assisted nearly 400,000 through its Tuition Assistance Program.
Increasing scrutiny of post-secondary institutions from veteran service organizations and lawmakers focused on unsatisfactory veteran graduation rates, recruiting practices, transferability of credits and lack of accountability.
Lawmakers should recognize the need to educate prospective student-veterans and their families on what to look for when choosing a college or university. Policymakers should also review and readdress the creation of relevant and useful data collection points in the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) when the law is reviewed for reauthorization.
The GI Bill is an important investment which, if squandered due to unscrupulous practices on the part of some institutions of higher learning, could leave servicemembers, veterans and their families with diminished hopes of obtaining gainful employment once they leave the military. There is a significant gap between the promise and delivery of higher education, which, unless bridged, will constrain our economic growth and squander one of this nation's greatest assets - America's servicemembers, veterans and their families.
The American Legion views small business as the backbone of the American economy. Small business owners are the mobilizing force behind America's past economic growth, and will continue to be a major factor as we move through the current economic slowdown. There are 27 million small businesses in the country, accounting for 99.7 percent of all firms. Reports show that businesses with fewer than 20 employees represent 90 percent of all U.S. firms and are responsible for more than 75 percent of all new jobs. Small businesses generated $993 billion in income in 2006, and employed 58.6 million people.
To help ease the credit crisis for small businesses, the Legion urges Congress to establish a direct lending program through the Small Business Administration (SBA). This effort would offer low-interest loans to otherwise healthy veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned businesses that are having trouble obtaining the credit they need for necessary operating expenses or expansion. In addition, the Legion seeks and supports legislation to require a 5 percent goal, with set-asides and sole-source authority for federal procurements and contracts for businesses owned and operated by service-disabled veterans and businesses owned by veterans. This includes small businesses owned by reservists and National Guard members who have been or may be called to active duty, or may be affected by base closings and other military reductions.
The Legion notes that pressures being exerted on the federal contracting community will likely result in greater use of the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Schedule Program. While this program holds a higher contracting preference compared to the small-business programs, it unfortunately does not allow set-asides for any small business group. The Legion believes that expanded use of this program will further diminish opportunities for small businesses, especially those owned by veterans. The Legion recommends that:
Service-disabled, veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) set-asides should be allowed under the Federal Supply Schedule Program. Without this change, SDVOSBs are limited in their quest for small business opportunities to compete for federal contracts.
Implementation of a coordinated, standardized training program for procurement staff that focuses on SDVOSB procurement strategies in their respective agency.
The president should reissue Executive Order 13-360 "Providing Opportunities for Service-Disabled Veteran Businesses" to increase federal contracting and subcontracting opportunities for veterans, and require that its tenets be incorporated into SBA regulations and standard operating procedures.
SBA needs to emphasize Executive Order 13-360 and establish it as a procurement priority across the federal sector. Federal agencies need to be held accountable by SBA for implementing the executive order, and SBA needs to establish a means to monitor agencies' progress and, where appropriate, establish reports to identify those that are not in compliance, and pursue ongoing follow-up.
To achieve the mandates of Executive Order 13-360, SBA must assist federal agencies to develop a strategic plan that is quantifiable, and will assist them in establishing realistic reporting criteria.
The House Small Business Committee should embrace and promote development of stronger policy and legislative language that champions the use of veteran-owned small business joint-venturing as a ready solution to the small business spending requirements of the stimulus spending initiative.
Hold the leadership of federal agencies responsible for meeting the congressionally mandated goal of assigning annually 3 percent of federal contracting dollars to SDVOSBs. We recommend the committee schedule a hearing with all federal agencies that consistently do not meet their federal procurement goals with SDVOSBs.
To fully implement VA's pledge to end homelessness among veterans by 2015, Congress must continue making responsible investments in affordable housing and supportive services programs that move veterans and their families off the streets and into stable housing.
VA's homeless assistance programs are intended to serve all groups of low-income veterans: those who are at risk of becoming homeless or being homeless for a short time, and those with families who have spent years without a place to call home. To make this seamless system of care work, The American Legion recommends that funding be provided for a broad range of suitable and effective interventions, including:
Congress should appropriate additional funds for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program (SSVF). SSVF funds have been used effectively by community organizations to prevent many veterans from becoming homeless, and to quickly re-house veterans who only need short-term rental assistance and limited case management to get back on their feet. SSVF funds can also be used to pay for employment services, utility assistance, child-care costs and other housing-related expenses.
Congress should continue its support for the Homeless Veterans Grant and Per Diem transitional housing program. This critical program provides short-term housing assistance to homeless veterans, allowing them to get connected with jobs, supportive services, more permanent housing, and ultimately to become self-sufficient. Promising new models for using grant and per diem (GPD) funds, including allowing veterans to remain in their GPD housing units after support from the program ends, and new programs focused on women veterans. These models are helping to ensure that GPD continues to meet the changing needs of returning veterans and their families.
Congress should provide 10,000 new HUD–VASH vouchers designed to serve homeless veterans - and, in many cases, their families - who will need long-term housing coupled with intensive case management and supportive services. Since 2008, a total of 37,975 vouchers have been awarded, contributing substantially to major reductions in veterans homelessness.
The American Legion continues to take on a leadership role within local communities through volunteering, fundraising, and advocating for programs and funding for homeless veterans. In addition, the Legion has provided housing for homeless veterans and their families (for example, in the Legion departments of Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Connecticut). One of the Legion's goals is to help bring federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, faith-based institutions and other stakeholders to the table to discuss best practices and funding opportunities for homeless veterans. They and their families need to obtain necessary care and help to properly transition from streets and shelters to gainful employment and independent living.
The American Legion has been working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on an initiative to reduce unemployment among veterans. By pooling resources with the Department of Labor, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and various corporate sponsors, the Legion is hosting more than 200 veteran-specific job fairs across the nation in 2012 and 2013.
The "Hiring our Heroes" program focuses on smaller but more frequent career fairs in under-served rural or previously inaccessible sections of the country. This program takes advantage of the large footprint American Legion posts have throughout the nation, including many in rural areas that are ideal venues for these events.
Credentialing Boosts Job Prospects
The Department of Defense provides some of the best vocational training in the country for military personnel. Many occupational career fields in the armed forces easily translate into the civilian workforce. However, there are many civilian occupations that require licenses or certification. Every year, skilled servicemembers leaving active duty miss out on the chance to quickly move into good, high-paying, career-building jobs because they must undergo lengthy and expensive retraining to meet civilian licensing and certification requirements. Often, such retraining is for the same type of jobs they held in the military. This situation forces veterans into under-employment, hampers businesses because skilled workers are unavailable, and stunts the economy due to delayed job creation and limited consumer spending.
Since the release of The American Legion's landmark 1997 study on civilian licensure and certification for veterans, the organization has consistently distinguished itself as a respected and thoughtful voice for improving the employment prospects of veterans through better understanding and use of professional certification. These efforts are finally paying off. In the last few years, there has been a major culture shift in the military, which once believed that making it easier for troops to get jobs in the private sector would reduce retention and hurt the armed forces. Now, an expanded credentialing program has widespread support on Capitol Hill and from many top defense officials.
For example, Congress passed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 that requires the Department of Labor to take a hard look at how to translate military skills and training to private-sector jobs, and will work to make it easier to get the licenses and certifications our veterans need. Congress also passed the Veteran Skills to Jobs Act of 2012, which directs the head of each federal department and agency to treat relevant military training as sufficient to satisfy training or certification requirements for federal licenses. The Department of Defense has established a Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force. This group will focus its initial efforts on industries that need more skilled workers and stand to benefit from military expertise and training, including manufacturing, first responders, health care, information technology, transportation and logistics. Within one year, the task force is expected to (1) identify military specialties that readily transfer to high-demand jobs; (2) work with civilian credentialing and licensing associations to address gaps between military training programs and credentialing or licensing requirements; and (3) provide servicemembers with greater access to certification and licensing exams.
The federal government plays only a limited role in the certification and licensing arena. The private sector and state/local governments play a much larger role, issuing worker credentials that affect far more occupations and workers than federal agencies. To make the largest impact possible for veterans, all parties involved in credentialing must be included - not only federal and state governments, and all branches of the military, but the business community, technical schools, community colleges and professional, business and association certifying entities.
Nevertheless, the federal government is uniquely situated and obligated to take the lead on this issue, not only to overcome outdated attitudes, but to set an example for state and local government agencies that grant occupational licenses and set certain professional standards.
Done properly, these initiatives will help ensure that specialized military training received by our men and women in uniform meets civilian standards for credentialing and licensing. This will save money for the federal government and give the private sector a fully qualified, job-ready workforce. The American Legion encourages initiatives that build upon and accelerate efforts to put returning veterans to work, using skills developed in the military, and stands ready to assist all parties to succeed in this process.