Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act & The Hiring Heroes Act: What is it?

 Legislation and political context
                The Hire Heroes amends the Wounded Warrior Act to extend through 2014 providing the same rehabilitation and vocational benefits to members of the Armed Forces with severe injuries or illnesses as are provided to veterans.  (Bill Summary & Status 112th Congress (2011 - 2012), 2012). The Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) and the Hire Heroes Act are bipartisan, comprehensive legislation that combines provisions of Chairman Miller’s Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act - which passed the House on October 12, 2011 - (H.R. 2433; Report #112-242), and Chairman Murray’s Hiring Heroes Act (S. 951; Report #112-36), and veterans’ tax credits into a comprehensive jobs package that will aggressively attack the unacceptably high rate of veterans' unemployment.
The Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act combines provisions of the Hiring Heroes Act (S. 951; Report #112-242) which was first introduced by Florida Representative Jeff Miller as a way to assist veterans either retired or leaving the active duty forces a way to transition seamlessly into the civilian workforce. Representative Millers VOW Act was initially introduced on July 7, 2011 with 31 cosponsors it highlighted three key areas; Retraining Veterans, Improving the Transition Assistance Program, and Improving the Transition of Veterans to Civilian Employment.
                Retraining the Force allows the Secretary of Labor through the Secretary of Veterans Affairs the ability to provide up to 12 months of financial assistance for qualified Veterans for retraining assistance. One of the important aspects of this retraining is it targets the veterans between the ages of 35 to 60. This demographic is often the service member who has spent decades of their life in the military and often do not have skills that are comparable to the civilian workforce. 
                Improving the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) revises the guidelines for releasing military bases that primarily provide the TAP services to departing military members whether retiring or who have reached their Expiration Term of Service (ETS) with requirements to provide specific services to military members such as counseling, employment, and training services. Services members will be required to participate in these services unless a documented operational requirement prevents them for participating in the services.  Key elements to TAP are:
·         Employment and career goals
·         Education and training
·         Financial Readiness
·         Health and Well-being
·         Relocation and housing assistance
                Improving the Transition of Veterans to Civilian Employment directs the Secretary of Labor along with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to select five but not more than ten Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) that through a coalition of state governors can cross over to state licensing and credentialing.  This allows departing military member with specialized training the ability to become licensed or credentialed in their home state without having to duplicate training or schooling.
                Another important piece to this legislation is that it provides employers with incentives to hire veterans by providing tax incentives. These tax incentives provide up to $5,600 for each veteran hired and up to $9,600 for each disabled veteran hired, if the veteran has been looking for work for six months or longer.
                Supporters loosely modeled their proposal of the VOW Hire our Heroes after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps used during the Great Depression to put people to work planting trees, building parks and constructing dams. (Freking, 2012)

 Problem Analysis
                According to the Labor Department, there are 3.4 million job openings right now in the United States. Yet, many employers are finding that workers do not have the skills or training they need to qualify for them.
There are nearly 900,000 unemployed veterans in the United States–a staggering figure. The latest Department of Labor unemployment report shows that in October 2011, the average unemployment rate among all veterans was 7.7% and 12.1% for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Equally troubling, veterans between the ages of 35 and 64, the group with the highest financial obligations and the fewest available VA education and training options, continue to make up nearly two-thirds of all unemployed veterans. Overall, nearly one in twelve of our nation’s heroes can’t find a job to support their family, don’t have an income that provides stability, and don’t have work that provides them with the confidence and pride that is so critical to their transition home (House Commitee on Veteran's Affairs, 2012). For a comparative analysis provided by the Department of Labor for unemployed veterans compared to civilian populations in the demographic age of 18 and older see Table 1.
Employers, community colleges, local workforce investment and career training organizations have proven that public-private collaboration can be highly effective at preparing and placing veterans in new positions where their skills are needed. Continued support for public-private partnerships will help transition veterans into civilian jobs (Jones, 2012).
                There is a conservative figure that 1.5 million service members will make the transition from military life to the civilian sector over the next five years.  While in Idaho these figures will be substantially lower the impact on the community which as of August 2012 was ranked 23 in the United States with an unemployment rate of 7.4% or 57,081.
Idaho Department of Labor does not have any current data that tracks veterans who were unemployed prior to the most recent deployment of the 116th Cavalry out of Gowen Field. Nor does it have data that tracks the number of veterans and Soldiers that were re-hired or simply re-integrated back into their former jobs but it is believed that at least 40% were unemployed prior to the deployment  (Associated Press, 2011)

 Existing Resources to Deal with the Problem
On September 20, 2012 the Senate Republicans blocked legislation that would have established a $1 billion jobs program putting veterans back to work tending to the country’s federal lands and bolstering local police and fire departments. (Freking, 2012) Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma stated the federal already has six job-training programs available to veterans. Stating the problem is not with helping veterans return to the job market but there is no way of knowing how well the programs in place are working.  Senator Coburn argued that the best way to help veterans is by first fixing the nation’s debt this would be a long term solution that would help veterans and their families.
Some federal programs currently being offered are: Veterans Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) and VetSuccess which provides a Veteran who is found eligible for the VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program, and who has an employment handicap vocational rehabilitation services. Following the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor's determination that a Veteran has met the entitlement criteria, the counselor and Veteran will jointly develop a plan for a rehabilitation program with a goal typically leading toward employment. In some cases, the plan goal may be related to an independent living need. This plan will provide all of the needed services and assistance identified through the initial evaluation.  In those cases when a Veteran is not found to be entitled, the VA Counselor will assist him or her to use the information gathered in the initial evaluation to identify other options, goals, and programs that should contribute to sound vocational adjustment, for example, referral to the State Vocational Rehabilitation program, information about financial aid, and referral to the Department of Labor's Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP) program.

Veterans' Recruitment Appointment (VRA) is an excepted authority that allows agencies, to appoint eligible veterans without competition. An eligible veteran can be appointed under this authority at any grade level up to and including a GS-11 or equivalent. Agencies can also use VRA to fill temporary (not to exceed 1 year) or term (more than 1 year but not to exceed 4 years) positions.  Veterans Employment Opportunity Act of 1998, as amended (VEOA) is a competitive service appointing authority that can only be used when filling permanent, competitive service positions. It cannot be used to fill excepted service positions. It allows veterans to apply to announcements that are only open to so called "status" candidates, which means "current competitive service employees."
 The most recent federally funded program is the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) this program this program is currently limited to 45,000 participants from July 1, 2012, through September 30, 2012, and 54,000 participants from October 1, 2012, through March 31, 2014. Participants of the program must attend school full-time in order to receive up to 12 months of assistance equal to the monthly full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill–Active Duty program ($1,564 effective October 1, 2012). The Department of Labor will offer employment assistance to every Veteran who participates upon completion of the program. Participants of the program must be enrolled in a VA approved program of education offered by a community college or technical school and the program must lead to an Associate Degree, Non-College Degree, or a Certificate, and train the Veteran for a high demand occupation.

Currently there are more than 70 cosponsors to the Hiring our Heroes Act.  President Obama has been a firm supporter of federally funding programs that put the veteran back into the workforce. Unfortunately as of September 20, 2012 Senate Republicans blocked the bill saying that the spending authorized in the bill violated limits that Congress agreed to last year. Senate Democrats fell two votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to waive the objection forcing the legislation back into committee (Freking, 2012).
Veterans' Recruitment Appointment (VRA) denounced the vote saying “This bill was bipartisan policy that would have put veterans back into service for their communities as policeman, firefighters and first responders, but the results of today’s vote creates tremendous doubt that this Congress will be able to pass any additional veterans legislation in 2012. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans should not have to wait until 2013 for critical support from Congress” (Freking, 2012).
With 2012 being an election year the stake holders for the Hire our Heroes legislation are the President and candidate Mitt Romney.  This legislation is vital is showing support for the military and the transitioning members of the service. The drawdown of Afghanistan by 2014 will only compound the problems associated with veteran joblessness. The VA has estimated that more than 500,000 new disability claims will be filed over the next five years. This number does not represent the number of veterans and disabled veterans using the current resources available to them to promote job education and eventually stable employment.

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