August 27, 2018

Weekly Column: Connecting Idaho Veterans With Opportunity

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

For those who have spent years serving in and rising through the ranks of the U.S. military, embarking on an entirely new path in the civilian sector after service can be daunting.  Despite today’s positive economic climate, with historically low unemployment and many sectors reporting more jobs than people to fill them, thousands of servicemembers separating from the military each year with valuable skills, leadership experience and strong work ethic still face challenges to accessing these opportunities.  These challenges often stem at least in part from inadequate counseling and preparation for civilian life prior to separation, which can cause stress, financial instability and health consequences for servicemembers and their families.  While efforts have been made in recent years to ensure all servicemembers receive preseparation counseling, these lingering issues indicate there is still room for improvement. 

Earlier this year, I began facilitating meetings with veterans; government agencies; institutions of education and technical training; employers; and other Idaho stakeholders to explore ways to improve the channels of information and services to transitioning servicemembers and veterans in Idaho to ensure they are aware of the opportunities available to them and how they can gain the necessary skills and assistance to seize them.  I have been proud to facilitate these ongoing discussions, which have already yielded positive impacts.  In May, Southern Idaho Economic Development Organization announced a regional partnership with Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Department of Labor, Idaho Division of Veteran Services and regional employers to attract veterans into skilled positions across southern Idaho, supported by a grant from Battelle Energy Alliance, operator of Idaho National Laboratory.  Members of these dialogues have also joined together to identify postsecondary job training and career opportunities such as apprenticeships, conduct outreach to transitioning servicemembers and provide training to local businesses on creating veteran-friendly workplaces and hiring practices. 

Building on these efforts, I recently introduced S.3299, the Improving Preparation and Resources for Occupational, Vocational, and Educational (IMPROVE) Transition for Servicemembers Act, with Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) to improve the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), the multiagency program that provides preseparation counseling and assistance to transitioning servicemembers.  This bipartisan legislation seeks to increase access to and utilization of TAP services by moving up the start and completion timeline for the program, limiting online TAP curriculum as a substitute for in-person instruction, and improving TAP instructor-to-servicemember ratios.  S. 3299 would also establish databases for tracking progress in TAP, measuring effectiveness of the program, and connecting servicemembers to local support services in communities where they are relocating.  The text and summary of the bill can be accessed on my website: www.crapo.senate.gov.

The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing on August 1, 2018, to consider transition assistance legislation.  Language from the IMPROVE Transition for Servicemembers Act was included in the discussion draft for the hearing.  I look forward to further consideration and improvement upon these proposals as they move through the legislative process. 

No veteran who has contributed to our national defense should feel uninformed or unprepared to be contributing members of their communities and provide for their families after service.  Soldiers support one another even as they defend us, and we, as their communities, ought to have their backs as well.  Helping them bridge the gap to civilian life will not only help them achieve their goals but will also benefit local economies and businesses.  I am grateful to those who have joined in this effort and look forward to continuing work to ensure those in uniform have the resources for success in the military and beyond, to the mutual benefit of service personnel and those they protect.

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