By LES BLUMENTHAL
February 03, 2006
"We have been in this situation for three years and all the VA (Veterans Administration) says is they will look at it," said Washington Sen. Patty Murray, a senior Democrat on the committee. "When soldiers return home, they need to return home to a job." Criticism of the jobs programs, run by the Labor Department and the VA, was not restricted to Democrats, as Republicans also wondered whether veterans were being taken care of.
"If these programs, as currently structured, are not helping those veterans most in need, I believe we must acknowledge that it is time for fundamental changes in how we provide employment services for our veterans," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the committee chairman.
The Labor Department recently reported that young veterans, age 20 to 24, had an unemployment rate of more than 15 percent - nearly twice the rate of non-veterans in that age group. Nationwide, the current unemployment rate is 4.9 percent.
Of the roughly 200,000 servicemen and women leaving the military every year, about 42,000 are 20 to 24 years old, Craig said.
Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the unemployment rate for young veterans has risen from 11 percent to more than 15 percent, while the rate for non-veterans in the same age group has actually dropped, from 10 percent to a little over 8 percent.
"In a strong economy, these numbers don't fit," Craig said.
Administration officials acknowledge the difficulties of finding jobs for younger veterans.
"It's a huge problem," said Charles Ciccolella, who oversees veterans employment and training programs at the Labor Department. "We are looking at it very closely."
Ciccolella said the problem of unemployed younger veterans is not new and might, in part, reflect that some of these veterans have chosen not to find jobs and others may be waiting to enter school.
Murray said the problem also extended to members of the National Guard and Reserve who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and now can't find jobs. The senator said some Guard and Reserve members have told her that businesses won't hire them because they are concerned they might be returned to active duty again.
"It's hard to prove, but I hear it all the time," she said.
Under questioning from Murray, Ciccolella said he was aware of the problems members of the Guard and Reserve face when looking for jobs.
"In my opinion their demobilization is too rapid," he said, adding federal agencies need to improve the transition assistance they provide deactivated Guard and Reserve members.
Congress last overhauled employment programs for veterans in 2002, and Ciccolella said the changes are finally starting to take hold.
However, Congress' investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, said the Labor Department had not implemented parts of the new law holding states accountable for their parts of the program, adding that no one is keeping track of how well the new programs are actually working.
Craig said he was concerned there was little data on whether the programs were effective, and the data that was available "suggests the programs are not targeting those most in need."
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