WASHINGTON (CN) - Despite promising reports on veteran unemployment rates, Senators Tuesday pressed representatives of federal departments tasked with transitioning military members to civilian life to continue working to make that move easier.
At a hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, senators expressed concerns about whether the Transition Assistance Program properly handles the needs of female veterans and whether it helps connect vets with the right type of jobs once they leave the service.
The Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, helps military members move from active duty to life as a veteran by explaining benefits, holding briefings, communicating with companies and helping soon-to-be veterans craft resumes and interview skills so they can find jobs once leaving the military.
But some senators wondered whether the program was doing enough to achieve its goal. Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, was concerned about Coca-Cola's claim that there is not one point of contact for businesses trying to hire veterans.
In the second panel of the hearing, Elizabeth Voticky, group director of North America talent acquisition for Coca-Cola, told the committee her company sought to hire veterans to fill 500 open jobs as drivers across the nation. The company reached out to 20 TAP offices and posted the listing on their websites.
Coca-Cola got 12 resumes from the listings. Voticky told the committee other sites like Monster.com simply do a better job of targeting veterans.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, said the country is "failing" its veterans in its efforts to transition them from active duty and cited a study in his opening statement that found 53 percent of veterans will face unemployment after leaving the service.
"That number, that prediction is simply beyond unacceptable," Blumenthal said.
Teresa Gerton, deputy assistant secretary for policy, veterans' employment and training service for the Department of Labor pointed to a 3.6 unemployment rating for veterans as a sign of the program's success, though she acknowledged female veterans face a slightly higher jobless rate than their male counterparts.
But when Blumenthal pressed the panel about how TAP considers the needs of female veterans, Susan Kelly, director of the Transition to Veterans Program Office for the Department of Defense, told him female veterans have asked to not be treated any differently than men.
"Their request to us was to please don't connote us as having separate issues aside from our male counterparts," Kelly told Blumenthal, relaying her conversations with female veterans.
Blumenthal responded that he understands women want to be treated equally but insisted the "hard fact" of discrimination remains.
One challenge the panel and the senators agreed on is the trouble veterans have in finding rewarding, challenging jobs after leaving the military. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington state, cited a study from Syracuse University that found almost half of veterans leave their first job within two years of getting it.
The veterans in the study said they left their jobs because of a lack of career development, professional growth or fulfilling work, Murray said.
Kelly nodded when Murray mentioned the study and said the Department of Defense is concerned with what the department calls "job-hopping."
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, agreed with the problem and said many veterans do too.
"When I speak with veterans, though, it's really an interesting conversation," Cassidy said. "They are so alive in the military, and one fellow said, 'When I was in I was a battle commander and when I was out I was an assistant manager.' And he actually attempted to commit suicide because there was this, kind of, this loss of purpose."
To help solve this problem, Cassidy suggested legislation he introduced in February that would encourage states to make it easier for veterans to become EMTs after leaving the military.
The second panel of the hearing, which featured representatives of Coca-Cola, Starbucks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Legion, informed the committee of their pledges to hire veterans but insisted that cooperation between the government and the private sector will be key to improving veterans' unemployment numbers.
"One thing that most people in this space recognize is that not one organization, not one agency, not one company, not one nonprofit organization is going to solve the challenges of veterans on their own," said Matt Kress, manager of veterans and military affairs for Starbucks. "It's going to take a community effort both on the national and local level."
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