The U.S. government is a month away from offering retraining funds for older military veterans who can’t find jobs, and unless federal bureaucrats step up their game, veterans won’t find the money, lawmakers said.
“I haven’t seen anything myself on the news or on TV about this program,” Representative Dan Benishek, a Michigan Republican, said today during a hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “If I weren’t on this committee, I wouldn’t have known about it.”
The Veteran Retraining Assistance Program, part of a veterans jobs package passed by Congress last year, will offer as much as 12 months of benefits, at about $1,473 a month, to unemployed veterans 35 to 60 years of age who need retraining for civilian jobs.
The program, which begins July 1 and will end in 2014, is designed to help 99,000 of the 400,000 veterans in that age bracket who lack jobs, said Allison Hickey, undersecretary for benefits in the Department of Veterans Affairs.
About 785,000 veterans were unemployed in April, of which about 620,000 were older than 34, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With no centralized system to identify eligible veterans, federal officials are using every resource they have to target them, including e-mails, social-network sites, newspapers and free media, Hickey said.
Representative Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican and chairman of the committee, expressed surprise that the Veterans Affairs and Labor departments have no advertising budget to promote the program.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever heard an individual come into a committee and say they don’t need a budget,” Miller told Hickey.
Hickey said she saw no need for paid advertising because groups and social media outlets are offering to run public-service announcements free of charge.
Since the government started accepting applications for the program about two weeks ago, about 12,000 veterans have applied, Hickey said.
“I haven’t seen a lack of response to date,” she told the committee. “Almost 1,000 people a day are applying for this benefit.”
Committee members said they intend to monitor the program closely to make sure it serves as many veterans as funding allows.
“It would be tragic if we do not help veterans take advantage of these opportunities,” said Representative Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat.