Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Veterans "Can't Wait"

Last week, the Washington Post published an article headlining “Veterans unemployment outpaces civilian rate.” The article highlighted the latest employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that concluded veterans who left military service in the past decade have an unemployment rate of 11.7 percent, well above the overall jobless rate of 9.1 percent. 
  
The elevated unemployment rate for new veterans has persisted despite President Obama's American Jobs Act introduced in September.  Under the Act, the President specifically proposed the following for to address veterans’ unemployment:   
  • Returning Heroes Tax Credit of up to $5,600 for civilian employers hiring veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months
  • Wounded Warriors Tax Credit of up to $9,600 for hiring unemployed workers with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six month
  • A new task force to maximize career readiness of service members
The President’s prime focus on tax incentives for employers may help lower the unemployment rate. However, do employers really hire a person because of a tax incentive, or do they hire a person based on the needs of their business? A tax incentive is a short term fix. An employee, on the other hand, is a long term commitment and investment for the company.

Referring back to the Washington Post article, “The real problem, according to some veterans and employers, is translating what men and women learned and experienced in the military into civilian jobs.” 

Enter the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act (VOW Act). The House Armed Service Committee introduced this bill in July to better link military experience to civilian jobs. The VOW Act incorporates education, training, protections, and eliminates roadblocks in the system to provide veterans with the opportunity to compete in a 21st century economy. Under this Act, the following are addressed: 

The Transition Assistance Program (TAP)
TAP has been ongoing for almost thirty years. The programs provides service members who are about to be discharged with job seeking skills such as resume writing to help their transition to the civilian world. However, these programs need to be more up- to-date and effective. The bill would require the Department of Labor (DOL) to contract with a private entity or entities to provide specified counseling, employment, and training services. It would link military training and civilian job skills. In addition, the VOW Act will make attendance at TAP classes mandatory for all service members. 

Education and Training 
In today’s job market, education plays a key factor in employment. Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill more veterans are getting a secondary education than ever before. The VOW Act will further increase education as it will enable 100,000 unemployed veterans to receive up to 1-year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits. With these education benefits, veterans will acquire the skills needed to become employed.
Concerning training, the VOW Act will give state governors maximum flexibility in the funds they receive to help veterans find jobs, the VOW Act will give governors the option of using up to 25% of the funding for direct training services for veterans. In addition to further see state budgets utilized fully in training veterans, the VOW Act will better focus disabled veterans’ outreach program specialists (DVOPs) and local veterans’ employment representatives (LVERs) services, which includes employment counseling, to spend substantially all of their time assisting veterans.
Finally, the act will help older veterans as it would direct the Secretary of Labor to establish a new program for unemployed veterans between the ages of 35 and 60.  Selected veterans would get up to 12 months of federal financial assistance for education and training. 

Licensing & Certification 
Despite the military having some of the best-trained professionals, the inability to be credentialed or licensed in their field prevents these men and women from obtaining meaningful and gainful employment that makes use of their military training. Under current law, the Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training (ASVET) is to have a demonstration project involving at least ten military occupational specialties (MOSs).  The idea is to facilitate the recently separating veteran entering into a civilian occupation that is similar to his or her MOS on active duty.  VOTWA would change “at least ten” to not less than five nor more than ten” and thus water down the program.   

National Guard and Reserve 
14% of National Guard and Reserve are currently unemployed. Under the federal statute, Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), employers must reemploy reservists and guardsmen who left their job to report for duty. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Under the VOW Act, USERRA is strengthened to protect these servicemen and women.

Comparing the two bills, one finds disparate approaches but a common identification of key issues in putting our veterans back work. While tax incentives and transitional assistance are at the heart of the respective proposals, recent developments seem to necessitate a combination of the two. Recently, the VOW passed in the House with broad bipartisan support. As the legislation awaits consideration in the Senate, President Obama’s American Jobs Act has been widely considered dead on arrival. Having vowed to deliver the signature proposals of this legislation piece by piece, Administration officials just this week introduced two executive actions aimed at incentivizing veteran hiring. President Obama on Tuesday called on community health centers across the country to hire 8,000 veterans in three years; an effort supported logistically by the National Association of Community Health Centers. This initiative is meant to dovetail with the Administration’s second executive action this week. A comprehensive initiative giving “priority in physician assistant grant awards to universities and colleges that help train veterans for careers as physician assistants. In an effort to expand the number of training programs that accommodate veterans, the Administration also will identify model programs that offer expedited curricula for veterans and that offer enhanced veteran recruiting, retention, and mentoring services, and help bring these best practices to other programs.”

While the final impact of these respective initiatives is far from certain, one thing is doubtless: with over 40,000 troops scheduled to return home by year’s end President Obama has been correct in asserting “we can't wait”.

3 comments:

r. Beaudreau said...

Have to have someplace to go. Now is the time to have a G.I. Bill like the one after WW II. I was a vet of WW II went to Purdue University and got a degree. Kept me off the unemployment rolls for 4 years.

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