JULIUS M. WILLIAMS, JR.
DIRECTOR, VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION
AND COUNSELING SERVICE
VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
HOUSE VETERANS' AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON BENEFITS
September 9, 1999
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee.
It is a pleasure for me to appear before you today to discuss with you the ways that the Department’s two principal education, training, and employment assistance programs deal with credentialing and licensure, with a focus on how our apprenticeship and other on-job training (OJT) programs assist service members and veterans transitioning back into the economy. Accompanying me is Mrs. Celia Dollarhide, Director of our Education Service.
I would like to stress that VA is a strong proponent of service members and veterans achieving the credentials they need to succeed in getting a good job outside the military. VA does all the law allows to provide assistance in helping veterans to receive the training they need and to achieve suitable employment. We do recognize, however, that VA does have limitations on its authority, and one of these limitations affects civilian sector credentialing of skills learned in military service.
I would like to first speak about the assistance we can provide under the Montgomery G.I. Bill (MGIB). Then I will describe how the Vocational Rehabilitation Program addresses these same issues. Finally, I will outline our efforts on two task forces to suggest ways to widen the scope of our activities in credentialing and licensure.
Assistance Under the Montgomery G.I. Bill
One of the three principal forms of credentialing as indicated in the Transition Commission report is apprenticeship and on-job training (OJT). Veterans and eligible persons can use the Montgomery G.I. Bill to achieve either apprenticeship or OJT credentialing. However, the current law governing the MGIB does not allow VA to reimburse a veteran for certification or licensing fees.
Our apprenticeship and OJT programs under the MGIB can assist veterans to achieve the training required for the credentials they need. From the beginning of the MGIB, in 1985, through 1998, OJT and apprenticeship trainees made up three percent of the total number of veterans using their MGIB benefits. Training under the MGIB is heavily weighted toward college-level education programs. This phenomenon reflects societal notions about the economic need to have a college degree and, increasingly, the importance of a Master's degree or first professional degree.
Nevertheless, in recent years, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has encouraged the State Approving Agencies (SAAs) to provide more outreach efforts in encouraging employers to offer on-job and apprenticeship training. One of the first fruits of this effort has been a video that the Missouri SAA and the Missouri National Guard jointly produced. The video encourages employers, veterans, and reservists to participate in apprenticeship or OJT programs under the MGIB.
The National Guard uses the video as a recruitment tool. The Missouri SAA has supplemented the video with radio public service announcements encouraging the use of OJT and apprenticeship training. In addition, the SAA publishes success stories of veterans using these benefits at local companies.
Due to efforts of the SAAs, we have noticed an increase in the number of OJT and apprenticeship trainees under the MGIB. For example, in FY 1996, there were 6,738 trainees. This number increased to 10,810 veterans and reservists in FY 1998, a jump of over 60 percent. Another factor that we expect will increase participation is a provision of Public Law 105-368, enacted on November 11, 1998, that liberalizes the approval requirements for Federal, State, and local government OJT programs.
Under MGIB apprenticeship and OJT programs, veterans and eligible persons receive a monthly training allowance while in the program. This training allowance is lower than the allowance for institutional attendance, since the trainees are also receiving a wage from their employers. The training allowance decreases every 6 months, as the veteran becomes more skilled in the job and earns more salary.
Both OJT and apprenticeship programs must be approved by the appropriate SAA. In addition, there are a number of statutory requirements to meet before making an approval.
For OJT, the job for which the veteran or eligible person is training must customarily require full-time training for not less than 6 months and not more than 2 years. There must also be a reasonable certainty that the job will be available to the veteran or eligible person at the end of the training period.
Additionally, the wages the trainee receives at the start of the training must be at least 50 percent of the wages paid for the target job -- the one for which the veteran or eligible person is training. Moreover, the trainee wages (except for Federal, State or local government OJT programs) must increase in regular periodic increments until, not later than the last full month of the training period, the wages are at least 85 percent of the wages the employer pays for the target job. As previously mentioned, Public Law 105-368, liberalized the approval requirements for Federal, State, and local government OJT by exempting those programs from such wage increase requirements.
For apprenticeship training, programs may be established for VA participation when the SAA is satisfied that the programs of apprenticeship meet the standards of apprenticeship published by the Secretary of Labor under section 50a of Title 29, United States Code. In addition, the employer must provide a signed copy of the veteran's or eligible person's training agreement to each apprenticeship trainee. The training agreement must refer to the SAA approved training program and wage schedule. The course must also meet any other reasonable criteria that the SAA may establish.
There are also promising initiatives concerning licensing and certification coming out of the pilot programs being organized by the Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service. Some of these initiatives need professional review by SAAs to assure the requirements for MGIB approval are met. The SAAs are most interested in ensuring that veterans’ military experience receives recognition when veterans are seeking licensure or certification.
In Ohio, for example, the SAA is an active member of the Licensure and Certification Advisory Group, which is designing specialized programs for veterans with active duty training and experience in certain vocational fields. This Group is also developing outreach strategies to contact recently discharged veterans to inform them of these programs.
Assistance Under the Vocational Rehabilitation Program
For service-disabled veterans who participate in VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation Program under chapter 31 of title 38, United States Code, placement in an OJT or apprenticeship program often is a training option. VA may pay for all costs associated with such training, to include testing and licensure expenses. Although we cannot directly credential a veteran in the Vocational Rehabilitation Program for skills learned in service, we do take those skills into account when we plan an individualized program of services and assistance that will lead to the veteran getting a suitable, well-paying job.
The Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling (VR&C) staff may place a veteran in an SAA approved apprenticeship or OJT program. In addition, each VR&C Officer has the authority to develop necessary information to determine whether an employer may be granted approval to provide a program of apprenticeship or OJT to chapter 31, in those instances where the program has not been approved by the SAA for MGIB purposes.
In FY 1998, VA’s VR&C Service provided training services focused on employment outcomes to more than 53,000 veterans with disabilities. We want to increase the number of OJT and apprenticeship opportunities for our participants, to include both paid OJT and apprenticeships, as well as unpaid OJT or work experience in city, county, State or Federal entities. We have begun an effort to make our mission better known to employers. We expect that greater visibility for the program will result in more employers wanting to partner with us in offering disabled veterans opportunities for learning on the job.
In some cases, veterans come to us already having been hired into an apprenticeship or OJT position. In other instances, we assist the veteran to obtain employment that requires development of an OJT plan. With our emphasis on employer contacts, we expect that VR&C employment specialists and our partners -- Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program specialists -- will generate increased interest in training and hiring program participants. We have the authority to develop and approve OJT programs lasting up to 24 months. Chapter 31 benefits supplement a trainee’s wages; provide required tools, supplies and other equipment; pay any licensing or certification fees; and provide any classroom training essential to skill mastery.
In other instances where a chapter 31 participant is pursuing a vocational objective that requires certification testing, such as teaching, nursing, certified public accounting, or avionics, chapter 31 benefits pay the fees for this testing. In this way, we provide for the entry-level worker to become fully competitive.
We are aware that formalized on-job training programs and apprenticeships frequently have not recognized military training. We are also aware that licensing and certification bodies similarly have not recognized classroom instruction and skills veterans have acquired on active duty. This is a source of frustration and disappointment to service members and veterans, as well as a waste of valuable assets.
Task Force Participation
In line with the recommendations of the Transition Commission, we want to do all we can to assist veterans to receive credit for their military training. Recently, a VA Vocational Rehabilitation task force met to assess transferable work-skills-analysis systems. The group found DoD’s Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET) to be indispensable for evaluating the work history of a newly discharged veteran and for planning an OJT or apprenticeship program if the veteran chooses to build on the foundation of military training.
We strongly support service members being able to review VMET documentation for accuracy and completeness at least 6 months before separation. This review and consequent records update will help vocational rehabilitation counselors to provide the most appropriate services, to include a transferable work-skills-analysis.
The Interagency Task Force on Certification and Licensing of Transitioning Military Personnel published its interim report in December 1998, with many recommendations for change. Task force members advocated a number of legislative initiatives to the MGIB that would help remove barriers to credentialing. The first recommendation was to change the law to allow the use of MGIB benefits for certification and licensing expenses.
In this regard, we note legislation is pending (section 6 of H.R. 1071) that would change the current definition of "program of education" for MGIB purposes to include licensing or certification tests required under Federal, State, or local law or regulation for vocations or professions. Further, although the Interagency Task Force has not yet recommended a source of funding for such a change, the pending legislation would have VA pay the licensing and test fees and, thus, would be subject to the pay-as-you-go requirement of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990.
Another legislative change under consideration would allow active duty personnel who had opted out of the MGIB program to change that decision and become participants in the program. A number of those newly eligible participants would pursue OJT and apprenticeship training.
The third legislative change the Interagency Task Force advocated would allow the in-service use of the MGIB for education, certification, and licensing expenses with payment at the full benefit rates. Currently, service members receive prorated monthly MGIB benefits based on the cost of tuition and fees.
Finally, the Interagency Task Force wants to explore the plausibility of lifting the 10 year eligibility period for using MGIB benefits, in recognition of the current effort by the Federal government to promote access to lifelong learning. Most American workers will have seven or eight jobs in their lifetimes, and the speed of change in the workplace is increasing. We are constantly evaluating how best to serve the needs of veterans, including proposals like this one.
We welcome the opportunity this Interagency Task affords us to work with the Department of Labor and other Federal agencies to remove unnecessary barriers to effective transitioning. Veterans and eligible persons participating in the MGIB and Vocational Rehabilitation will benefit from our efforts to promote greater recognition of the value of military training and its portability into the civilian economy.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. Mrs. Dollarhide and I will be glad to answer any questions you and the Committee may have.