Good morning to everyone.
We just spent last weekend honoring the nation's defenders who are no longer with us. Now it is time for us to focus on those who still need our help in securing a good job, and I welcome Under Secretary Hickey and Deputy Assistant Secretary Ortiz today. I am eager to hear how the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor are progressing in meeting the goals of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.
The VOW Act is a bipartisan, bicameral effort to reduce unemployment among veterans. While every provision in the law is important, I believe the centerpiece of the Act is what is being called the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program or VRAP (VEE- RAP). Of the approximately one point seven billion cost for the bill, which was paid for, one point six billion was spent to allocate up to a year of GI Bill benefits for nearly one hundred thousand unemployed veterans between the ages of thirty five and sixty. The balance funded Chairman Murray's vocational rehabilitation provision and the tax credit suggested by the President.
The VOW Act is an excellent example of what we can do when we work together, and I thank the Members on both sides of the aisle for their support and continuing interest in the Act's success.
Today, we are going to hear from Senior Officials tasked with implementing all the provisions of the law. I have asked them to concentrate primarily on VRAP. I am looking forward to hearing how they are setting the stage for a successful launch on July 1.
While I am impressed by the level of effort being made by program level-staff at both departments, I am concerned that not enough is being done by either cabinet secretaries, or the President himself, to promote this benefit.
Getting the message out about this opportunity is critically important to putting unemployed veterans on a path to a job in a high-demand field.
Clearly, aggressive promotion by the nearly three thousand One Stop employment centers are the key to filling the ninety nine thousand training slots authorized by the VOW Act. Let me give you just one example of why I am concerned that despite VA's significant outreach efforts, for which I commend them, problems are still arising. Staff was contacted by a community-based organization in Georgia about what appears to be a lack of effort to get the program started.
Shortly after passage of the VOW Act, the organization contacted the Augusta One Stop Employment Center about how to enroll unemployed vets in the program. They asked again in mid-March and the DVOPS and LVERs were still not aware of the program. Two weeks later, Augusta told them the Georgia Department of Labor was not aware of VRAP. In early April, both the Georgia and South Carolina Departments of Labor stated they were waiting for policy from DC. In late April, there still appeared to be little understanding of how the program would work. It appears that finally, on May 11th, 2012, a mass email from VA was released detailing how the program would be implemented, only 4 days later on May 15th.
Obviously, if that is typical of the level of awareness at the One Stop Centers, we have big problems. Secretary Ortiz, unless your Federal staff here in DC and in the states are contacting the disabled veteran outreach program specialists and local veteran employment representatives in the One Stop Centers, there is no way you are going to know whether the word is getting out and how the One Stop Centers intend to fill the training slots. I truly hope the case I just summarized is an isolated case, but I am not convinced that it is.
Having said that, I am pleased to see that over eleven thousand six hundred applications have been received so far, meaning that we are well on our way to filling all of the forty five thousand slots paid for in the VOW Act for the remainder of this fiscal year.
I also encourage each of the Members to make a strong effort in their districts to get the word out about VRAP so that we see the unemployment rate among veterans in their prime earning years continue to decrease.
I want to share a story about one my constituents, Mr. Todd C. Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan is a 35 year old veteran of the U.S. Navy. He learned about the VRAP program through an advertisement that the local one-stopran in the local newspaper. He was excited to learn of this "second chance" for Veterans, as his GI Bill benefits had recently expired. In response to the newspaper advertisement, Mr. Buchanan scheduled an appointment to review his options with a local Veterans Employment Representative.
The veteran and veterans' employment representative cross-walked the VRAP high demand occupations with the Okaloosa and Walton counties fastest growing occupation list, and considered the veteran's aptitude and interest. Mr. Buchanan was enrolled through VA's online application and will register at the Choice Technical Center for a welding certificate.
I submit to the committee that Mr. Buchanan is the type of veteran that this program is meant to help, and hopefully it will provide him the training he needs.
This bill passed with broad bipartisan and bicameral support and we owe it to taxpayers and veterans to ensure it is implemented properly.
I now yield to Ms. Brown for her opening remarks.