Veterans unemployment is at its lowest point in years, but veterans credentialing and military skills translation is still a headache.
Employment experts told Congress on Thursday that just because more veterans are finding civilian jobs doesn't mean the process of recognizing military skills for post-military careers has been fixed. Differing state rules and unclear training programs still leave many veterans confused and frustrated, and employers without a valuable talent pool.
"This situation creates an artificial barrier to employment for veterans," said Roy Swift, executive director of Workcred, an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute. "With an estimated 250,000 military personnel expected to leave service every year, the need to translate military skills into civilian careers is as important as ever."
Last week, the Labor Department announced that the unemployment rate for all veterans fell to 4.2 percent in August, the lowest monthly mark since May 2008.
Despite that good news, lawmakers on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee said they still worry about underemployment among highly-skilled service members who have to wade through various licensing and certification standards, sometimes at a high cost.
"We simply can't continue to spend millions of dollars training service members to do a job in the military and then require them to turn right around and re-take unnecessary courses or exams for the same job in the civilian world," said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee on economic opportunity.
Wenstrup and witnesses said they believe that the federal government has made significant strides in addressing those problems — particularly in specialties such as medical training — but still must do more to find ways to make it easier for states to understand military jobs and skills.
David Quam, deputy director at the National Governors Association, said his group still insists that states must preserve the right to hold onto their own credentialing standards, but added that federal officials can help the process by providing more information about what training troops have received and how that compares to civilian apprenticeships.
Defense officials already have begun that effort.
Frank DiGiovanni, director of force readiness and training at the department, said that by late 2015 all military services will have programs to pay for civilian credentialing tests, in an effort to better prepare troops for post-military life. That work also includes a review of all civilian credentialing requirements related to military specialties.
But employment advocates said more must be done to ensure veterans have access to reliable credentialing classes to fill the skills gaps needed for careers.
Steve Gonzalez, assistant director for the American Legion's employment division, said officials from his organization want to see stronger oversight of training programs eligible for GI Bill payouts, to ensure "a credential approved by the VA has value."
Currently, those types of programs are reviewed when first applying for eligibility but do not face periodic re-evaluations that would uncover whether the skills being taught are keeping pace with state changes.