Thursday, July 29, 2010







"I am glad to see we are joined by representatives from the Department of Defense which is responsible for training our men and women in uniform to meet the demands of their respective military career," declared US House Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin this afternoon bringing to order the House Veterans Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. "I am also glad to see the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor who both oversee these unique benefits and programs that may help our nation's veterans gain meaningful employment after their military service." She explained that the Subcomittee was continuing their work on the issue of the unemployment rate for veterans (21.6% in 2009). Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is the Chair of the Subcommittee, US House Rep Gus Bilirakis is the Ranking Member. In his opening remarks, Bilrakis noted, "Too often our men and women are required to repeat education already gained in military service. To me, that means that states need to be more flexible in recognizing military training and skills. I'm disappointed that the National Governor's Associated declined once again to join us here today. To me, the states hold the key to solving this dilemma."
The first panel was composed of Veterans of Foreign Wars' Eric Hillerman, the American Legion's Joseph C. Shapre Jr., the Blinded Veterans Association's Thomas Zampieri and Monster Worldwide's Vince Patton. We'll note this exchange from it.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: From all of's transition career tools, which ones have been in the greatest demand by service members and veterans? Is it the mentor network?
Vince Patton: Yes, ma'am. The mentor network definitely is one of the best demand because what we have found is by not just having the technology itself, but our veterans would like to have somebody to connect with one another. And this is probably one of the successes of the internet as a whole, that people are connecting with one another. By using our veteran career network where the veterans are connecting and talking to each other, helping them with writing resumes, it's been very, very helpful.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: For Mr. Hilleman and Mr. Shapre, you had both stated in your testimony -- I think one of the recommendations, Mr. Hilleman, was to fund a study of all MOSs [Military Occupational Specialty]. And Mr. Shapre you had stated that it would be helpful to have a system that could be devised to translate the full nature of a service members' skills and abilities. Do you think that having a study that would look at all MOSs and having a system designed in that way is -- would provide something that either currently isn't providing or is not capable of providing at this point?
Eric Hilleman: Um, Madame Chairwoman, currently ACE [American Council on Education] does study specific school houses and specific MOSs with the exception of the air force because the air force has their own junior college or community college within the air force. That gives transferrable credit for education. But the contract between DoD and ACE is at the request of DoD so it does not study every single MOSs or every single course, it's just what DoD is contracted with ACE to study. That and ACE currently only has partners with our credit reciprocity or credit acceptance of 30 -- excuse me, 2300 universities nation wide. So quite a few universities. But that -- The list is not fully encompassing so I think we'd like to see if we could improve that through the academic sphere.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Yes, so your focused on the study so that it would look at the transfer of credits into colleges and universities versus the career transition into direct employment.
Eric Hilleman: I think there needs to be a wall between two studies. The focus on what's going on with ACE and currently with DoD and then take a look at also -- and I think unfortunately this-this has to go on an industry-industry basis and state by state. The Army Nursing Program that we mentioned in our testimony. Nowhere on the sight does it say that Air Force, Navy or Coast Guard nurses are excepted from the same tests that the Army Nurses are expected to sit for. So there's high degrees of variances from state to state. And I think that is the largest challenge to developing some agreement where credits transfer the military into the private sector.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Mr. Shapre?
John Shapre: I agree with everything that Mr. Hilleman has stated but we also -- The other thing we're really focusing on is we would like to see a lot of this done prior to the person's transition out of the military.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Mm-hmm.
John Shapre: They should know exactly what their MOS training will allow them to do once they leave.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Well that raises another very important question on TAP. I know Secretary Jefferson's commited to reforming TAP. But I think Dr. Patton, you had some testimony as it relates to your perspective on how TAP doesn't always provide service members with what they need. I have had a mixed bag of responses from my constituents. Most recentlly two different members of 20-years plus of different branches of the armed forces who separated from military service. One thought TAP was fabulous, and the other thought it was completely useless. And they didn't take the program in the same place. Otherwise I would think we would have had more consistent response. What are your thoughts as it relates to TAP, any of you, how do we restructure this if necessary?
Vince Patton: Madame Chairwoman, I'll use my own personal experience when I went through TAP two years before I retired. I'm going through my TAP class and my needs are a little bit different than some of the other people that were sitting in that TAP class. Sitting next to me was a young man with three-years in the Coast Guard, a paygrade E4. He's got a total different focus on what's going to happen to him at the end of his time as what's going to happen to mine? I'm getting a retirement, my resume is a little bit more padded than his is. He's focused on trying to get into using education. So what happens in the TAP class is -- I have no problem with the content and I don't think anyone does. The problem is that it's not a one size fits all. But the system has kind of set that to be by virtue of getting everybody with different military walks of life into one setting and trying to come out with something of a commonality. What probably needs to happen, in my opinion, is more of looking at how we can reinforce that information before TAP, during TAP, as well as after TAP. So-so the whole TAP process is something that's evolving that should continue on well past the individual leaving the service.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Any other comments on TAP? I'm over time but I'm going to recognize the Ranking Member and come back for time. Any other comments on TAP?
John Sharpe: Well we know that the Dept of Labor is in the midst of redoing their entire TAP program. They're modernizing the program, something that we strongly agree with. A lot of the recommendations that are going into this new program is coming from the businesses that set on their veteran advisory board. A couple of years ago, we all went to a number of TAP programs across the country and looked to see how it could be improved. And a lot of the recommendations that came from various business owners -- we just -- we do think they're on the right road. We're still concerned with the fact that many service members are still not getting access to the TAP program.
The second panel was composed of the Dept of Labor's Assistant Secretary for Veterans Employment and Training Service's Raymond M. Jefferson, DoD's John Campbell accompanied by DoD's Ron Horne and the VA's Margarita Cocker. We'll note this exchange.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Now according to your written testimony and I think you touched on it just now as well, the VA provides certification preparation tests. Can you specify for which specialities and how you determine if the veterans eligible for participation in the preparation tests.
Margarita Cocker: Yes, ma'am. Preparation tests can be provided to any service member or veteran that requires it in order to be able to pass the exam. The process will involve the VRC -- the Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor -- sitting down with the veteran and preparing the rehabilitation plan including any preparation test that might be needed. Depending on the industry standard for those types of exams and whether a preparation exam is typically expected to help the individual pass, that could be a given in the rehabilitation plan that the preparation test would be written in. However, if during the progress of the plan -- If it had not been written into the plan, it can be added later if the veteran feels that they're not confident enough to pass the test without a preparation course.
Chair Stephanie Herseth: And then on average, how long would it take for a service member or veteran to complete a transferable skills assessment from the point where they go through the vocational exploration phase, then receive an individualized and comprehensive plan until they're employed in their chosen field? Do you have a rough average?
Margarita Cocker: I do not have an average. I can take that question for the record. However, what I can say is that that is very individualized and dependent upon the level of education that that veteran will need to complete to get to the point of licensing and certification if it's required for that occupation. The evaluation process, the comprehensive assessment which includes the transferable skills assessment is conducted during the initial phase and I can certainly provide average numbers for the evaluation and planning phase. I can take that question for the record.
Chair Stephanie Herseth: Okay, I appreciate that. And can you give any examples from different career fields where it's been particularly challenging to secure licensing or certification?
Margarita Cocker: I don't have any specific occupations where I can say it's been challenging to achieve that?
Chair Stephanie Herseth: Any states?
Margarita Cocker: I can take that for the record though and research it further.
Rick Maze (Air Force Times) covered yesterday's House Veterans Committee hearing and is probably at the largest news outlet that did cover the hearing. It's rather surprising -- especially in the current poor economy, that billions of unaccountable dollars is not a story to other outlets. If you're late to the party, see yesterday's "Iraq snapshot" and Kat's "The House Veterans Affairs Committee was pissed." And very quickly noting a few highlights of yesterday's hearing.
The GAO repeatedly outlines the problems and the VA refuses to address them. US House Rep Cliff Stearns established this with his line of questioning and established that the VA has repeatedly been asked to get with the program but never can seem to do that. The same conclusions over and over by the GAO and each year billions go missing from the VA. As Ranking Member Steve Buyer observed, "I mean, right now, you could look back and the last three or four [VA] Secretaries -- I mean, they have, since 2000, increased these directives without execution."

Maybe the press ignored the story because there was consensus on both sides of the aisle?

* US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick: "And Mr. Chairman, I share the sentiment of the other members of this Committee, that this is a very serious problem that we really need to stay on top of."

* Chair Bob Filner: "I would not underestimate the anger that my colleagues feel on this on both sides of the aisle."

If it was a lack of conflict that had them see it as a non-story, they missed it when the VA showed up for the second panel: The Deputy Assistant Secretary for Finance Edward Murray, the Chief Financial Officer W. Paul Kearns III and Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer Frederick Downs, Jr.

How much money is missing/unaccounted for? According to testimony from the VA to the Committee yesterday (specifically from Kearns):

2007: $6.9 billion
2008: $11 bilion
2009: $12 billion
2010: $12 billion*

2010 is an estimate from Kearns ("We're on track this year to be right at about the same level."). So add that up and the VA can't account for $41.9 billion.

$41.9 billion is missing/unaccounted for and that's not a story? This week a much, much smaller amount of unaccounted for US tax payer money has dominated the news cycle (money that was supposed to go to Iraqi reconstruction efforts and may or may not have -- no one knows where the $9.1 billion went). $41.9 billion isn't a story?

We have a Republican press release that will be noted tomorrow. It's on veterans issues -- and I'm not opposed to noting press releases from Republican Congress members; however, there's just not space for it in today's snapshot. The hearing today was interesting and there were a large number of visitors that e-mailed about the hearing earlier this week noting what would be helpful to them in the coverage. (These are veterans and veterans spouses.) So that's what I based the excerpts on. And since that's based on input, I really can't cut any of those excerpts. We'll note the press release, in full, tomorrow.
One thing we have to note, on the issue of service members is stop-loss. That's the back door draft, where you've served your time but your 'stopped' from leaving because the US military is suffering too many losses (from discharges, recruitment, demand, etc). There's a new development for thos who have been stop-lossed.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff If you are a service member or veteran who was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss between Sept. 11, 2001, and September 30, 2009, you are eligible for Stop Loss Special Pay. Be sure to send in your claim form before the Oct. 21 deadline; the average benefit is $3,700. See for more informa...tion. If you know someone who may be eligible, tell a friend! - The official website of the United States Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense, DoD, Defense, Defence, Military

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