By Martin Kidston
Montana's two U.S. senators are asking the Departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs to release information detailing the effectiveness of several programs designed to address unemployment among military veterans.
Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats, submitted their letter to the agencies this month, asking for an update on the Department of Labor's efforts to remedy concerns raised in a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office, and later in a jobs bill for veterans introduced by the senators in January.
In their letter to Seth Harris, acting Secretary of Labor, the senators asked what efforts the agency had taken to review and implement veteran employment initiatives, along with veteran services in rural communities.
The letter details eight different questions and notes that Montana has the second highest number of vets in the country, per capita, with one in 10 state citizens having served.
"The answer to these questions are crucially important to Montana," they wrote in their June 5 letter to Harris.
The unemployment rate for veterans fell from 8.3 percent in 2011 to roughly 7 percent in 2012. Hiring increased for vets who served after 911, with unemployment among that group falling from 12.1 percent in 2011 to 9.9 percent in 2012.
"These statistics are encouraging, but it's clear more work needs to be done," Baucus said. "We'll continue to stand with our veterans and work with the Department of Labor to achieve maximum employment for veterans who seek work."
The two senators in January introduced the Veterans Employment Transition Act to make it easier for vets to transfer their military skills to the civilian workforce.
The bill also supports small businesses owned by disabled vets, and would help businesses receive tax credits for hiring vets recently discharged from the service.
The bill was introduced following a GAO report released in December. The report focused on six federal employment and training programs for vets, which serve around 880,000 participants at a cost of $1.2 billion.
Five of the programs are administered by the Labor Department and one by the VA. While the Department of Defense is expanding its own employment assistance efforts, the report found, it lacks an interagency agreement to coordinate the programs with Labor and the VA.
The report also found that Labor's 2008 handbook guiding staff when coordinating services to disabled vets was outdated, and it excluded employment efforts underway within the DOD.
The report outlined eight different recommendations for action, many of which were later included in the Veterans Employment Transition Act.
"The VETs Act addresses concerns regarding efficiency, transparency, and accountability for federal veteran job training programs," Tester said. "We're requesting a status update from Labor and the VA on their efforts to address the concerns raised in the VETs Act."