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318 Donelson Pike, Nashville, TN

The American Legion Department of Tennessee

NATIONAL VETERANS EMPLOYMENT & EDUCATION COMMISSION UPDATE FOR THE WEEK ENDING OCTOBER 6, 2017

TOPIC 1: ECONOMY

For the fourth time in five months, existing-home sales fell in August to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million, according to a September 20 press release from the National Association of Realtors (NAR). This is 1.7 percent lower than July’s 5.44 million. New home sales also took a tumble in August, according to data released September 26 by the U.S. Census Bureau. New single-family home sales came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 560,000. This marks a 3.4 percent drop compared to July’s new home sales of 580,000. The drop wasn’t for lack of interest; in fact, according to NAR there were plenty of buyers vying for a home this summer. Unfortunately, other obstacles got in the way. Steady employment gains, slowly rising incomes and lower mortgage rates generated sustained buyer interest all summer long, but unfortunately, not more home sales. What’s ailing the housing market and continues to weigh on overall sales is the inadequate levels of available inventory and the upward pressure it’s putting on prices in several parts of the country. Sales have been unable to break out because there are simply not enough homes for sale.

Total housing inventory at the end of August was 1.88 million existing homes for sale, a 2.1 percent drop compared to the end of July. If home sales were to continue at August’s pace, this inventory would be able to sustain the market for about 4 months. At the end of August 2016, there were 2.01 million homes available. Meanwhile, new home inventory is estimated to be 284,000, about 6-month supply, according to the Census Bureau. Housing completions were also low, according to a September 19 press release form the Census Bureau. Last month, a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,075,000 privately-owned homes were completed, a 10.2 percent drop compared to July. Likewise, housing starts also fell 0.8 percent to 1,180,000.

Though home construction wasn’t its strongest in August, there are signs it could pick up soon. The Census Bureau reported a 5.7 percent increase in building permits, amounting to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,300,000. In its monthly outlook report for September, Freddie Mac, reported it expects new home sales to take off next year. The company anticipates 1.33 million housing starts for 2018, which will certainly help the ebbing supply of available homes. Freddie Mac also noted that it expects home price escalation to simmer a bit in 2018; U.S. house prices grew 6.3 percent in 2017 and are expected to grow just 4.9 percent in 2018. In other words, while home prices may still continue to increase, they may not be as dramatic or pose as much of an obstacle to homeownership. The company expects total home sales, including both existing and new homes, will increase 2 percent between 2017 and 2018.

HOUSEHOLD DATA
Table A-5. Employment status of the civilian population 18 years and over by veteran status, period of service, and sex, not seasonally adjusted

[Numbers in thousands]

Employment status, veteran status, and period of service

Total

Men

Women

SEP
2016

SEP
2017

SEP
2016

SEP
2017

SEP
2016

SEP
2017

 

Gulf War-era II veterans

 

Unemployed

139

131

127

94

12

37

Unemployment rate

4.4

3.9

4.8

3.4

2.3

6.9

 

National unemployment rate is 4.2 percent (September 2017). Gulf War II veterans unemployment rate is 3.9 percent.[1] Currently, the unemployment rate for Gulf War II women veterans is 6.9 percent (down from 7.4 percent in August).

 

[1] U.S. Department of Labor. Economic News Release: Employment Situation Summary, May 2017.

 

TOPIC 2: MEETINGS

On Monday, October 2, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division and National Commander, Denise Rohan, met with the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Services (DOL-VETS) Team. We discussed the National Commander’s theme for The American Legion. Additionally, there was discussion around DOL-VETS upcoming initiative to help veterans in all aspects, to include disabled veterans, women veterans, unemployment rate, transitioning veterans, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

On Monday, October 2, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division met with Thomas Leney, Executive Director, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). Topics discussed included the AbilityOne appeal against the VA for federal contracts. AbilityOne wants the Rule of Two overturned in order to secure federal contracts from Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs). Other topics included the creation of an advisory council within the VA to speak on behalf of SDVOSB’s in VA contracting.

On Monday, October 2, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division presented at Southern Maryland’s 5th Annual United Veterans Boot Camp at Legion Post 82 in La Plata, Maryland. The topic covered the services The American Legion provides to veterans seeking employment opportunities, as well as the benefits of joining an American Legion post.

On Tuesday, October 3, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division had a conference call with Kelsey Baron, Professional Staff Member, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and Nicholas Vince, Legislative Assistant, Representative John Rutherford (SC) to discuss a bill that would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to make grants eligible organizations for the provision of transition assistance to member of the Armed Forces recently separated from active-duty.

On Tuesday, October 3, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division held a conference call with Walter Cotton and Billy Jenkins, members of The American Legion’s Small Business Task Force. The topics included the meeting with Thomas Leney and how The American Legion will be moving forward in securing small business opportunities for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs) and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs) within the VA.

On Wednesday, October 4, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division attended the monthly partner breakfast at the VA’s Center for Women Veterans. Topics discussed included updates from VSOs and other organizations, and current pending legislation affecting women veterans.

On Wednesday, October 4, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division had a conference call with Debra Anderson, Director for the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Mrs. Anderson would like to see how The American Legion can participate during the TAP classes.

On Wednesday, October 4, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division had a conference call with Terry Schow, National Executive Committee member, the Department of Utah, regarding data from the Census Bureau.  During the past census (2010), the census has failed to adequately capture the true numbers of veterans within certain areas.  This is problematic since veteran funding in those areas are based off of the veteran population.  Not every veteran self identifies unless they are specifically asked.  We’ll follow up with Senator Hatch’s office next week.

On Wednesday, October 4, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division held a private meeting with Charles Drummond, the new Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Education and Training (Force Training). The information shared dealt with the upcoming November 7th roundtable, as well as how Force Training has been a critical asset in The American Legion credentialing events.

On Thursday, October 5, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division had a conference call with Charles Brown and Robert Horton from Impact Diversity Solutions Corporation.  They’re offering a program that will assist veterans with resume writing, job searching and interviewing skills. Currently, there is draft legislation that will be part of the House Veterans’ Affairs committee hearing on Wednesday, October 11th.  If enacted, the bill would fund organization(s) that would equip veterans and their families with the necessary tools needed to find meaningful employment.

On Thursday, October 5, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division met with the Southeast Veterans Center in Washington, DC, to discuss transitional housing and their future plans on assisting homeless veterans and their families. The Center is a transitional housing program that provides an extensive list of services for homeless veterans, providing them with the tools needed to successfully return to civilian life.

On Thursday, October 5, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division participated in a roundtable with the VA’s Office of General Counsel on the “Waiver of Prohibition Against VA Employee Relationships with For-Profit Educational Institutions” federal action that was filed. Concerns were expressed that this was not done in the appropriate manner, with veterans service organizations being excluded from the decision, and finding out online through a registry notice. Additionally, there is a broader question of the legal authority for the VA to waive a federal statute without an act of Congress.

On Friday, October 6, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division had a conference call with Swords to Plowshares to discuss their programs/services that help homeless veterans get off the street and transition into permanent housing.

On Friday, October 6, the National Veterans Employment & Education Division met with the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Services (DOL-VETS) to discuss future initiatives that would address their apprenticeship program.

TOPIC 3: EMPLOYMENT

The United States was facing a crisis in veteran unemployment, with veterans facing higher unemployment rates than civilians. Recognizing the need and positive impact of veterans in the workforce, the American business community refocused on hiring veterans, nonprofit organizations worked to mitigate veteran unemployment challenges, and the government created programs to assist veterans seeking employment. Through these efforts, veteran unemployment has now decreased to levels below civilian unemployment. Despite our success in reducing veteran unemployment, companies still face significant challenges in recruiting, hiring, and retaining veteran talent.

In partnership with the Bush Institute, Hiring Our Heroes of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation reached out to leaders across the public, private and nonprofit sectors to further examine the causes of current veteran employment issues and to set the stage for collaborative action. This task force developed recommendations on how to mitigate and overcome these veteran employment challenges. Throughout these three meetings - in March, May, and June - the task force used the veteran employment life cycle as a framework to discuss issues and opportunities associated with each interconnected phase of the life cycle:

·         Pre-Transition: Activities, along with the supporting tools and resources, available to transitioning veterans during their transition from the military.

·         Recruiting and Hiring: The process by which organizations attract, select, and appoint suitable candidates for professional roles.

·         Onboarding and Integration: The process of getting an employee into the organization, networked and aligned to become effective members of an organization.

·         Retention: The process by which an organization retains employees in its workforce; often refers to the strategies for retention rather than the outcome of those strategies and includes setting conditions for employees to progress along a career path.

While separate and distinct, each stage is dependent on the other, and, for enduring success, members of private, public, and nonprofit organizations must take a synchronized approach to reinforce a successful veteran employment strategy. Task force member discussions revealed that many veterans lack a clear sense of what type of job or industry they would like to pursue or do not know how to articulate how their skills translate to the civilian workforce. Another issue the members identified is that talent acquisition members lack military knowledge and context for evaluating veteran candidates. Starting the transition process earlier could enable veterans to spend more time thinking about employment before transitioning out of service. Since there is an absence of comprehensive veteran employment data, task force members agreed an opportunity exists to re-visit veteran employment data collection, sharing, and analysis.

From their discussions, the task force members identified key issue areas and provided corresponding recommendations to support veterans in finding purposeful, full-time employment.

Key Recommendation Areas:

·         Increase public-private partnerships to improve veteran employment outcomes;

·         Expand apprenticeship, fellowship, and internship programs for transitioning service members;

·         Expand data collection, sharing and analysis;

·         Enhance employer hiring, onboarding and retention best practices;

·         Identify opportunities to customize transition assistance;

·         Create and expand DoD programs; and

·         Identify opportunities for expanding aptitude testing.

TOPIC 4: VETERAN HOMELESSNESS

Over 50 community organizations will come together Friday, October 6, to offer services and information as part of the Grant County (IN) Veteran Stand Down. For homeless veterans and any veteran in need, the stand down will offer booths on just about anything a veteran might need -- filing a claim, building a resume, enrolling in healthcare, finding a home as well as offering goods such as clothing and appliances. "These stand downs are a collaborative effort within the community with nonprofits and community organizations and county agencies where we highlight the awareness of homelessness and to help identify the homeless and extend services," said Wayne McBride, chief of staff for the Marion Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The VA will be present on Friday and offer a wide array of services for veterans, Bob Kelley, Volunteer Veterans Service Officer and committee member of the stand down, said. Around 200 veterans, mostly from Grant County, pass through each year, according to Kelley. Veterans are asked to bring a copy of their VA or military ID or a copy of their DD214. The stand down will begin on Friday at 8:45am with an opening ceremony, at the Grant County Family YMCA. The event itself will run from 9am to 2pm. Community members offering services include Walgreen's, which will administer flu shots and have donated travel kits, and Indiana Wesleyan University will conduct health screenings. "Stand downs were made to help veterans realize all the services available to them," he said.

 Kelley said they will open doors to the veteran warehouse which has clothing, dishes and appliances. Veterans will be free to take whatever they need. Combating homelessness among veterans is an emphasis at all stand downs. Kelley said they have success each year finding veterans who are in need of housing. "Every year we've been able to identify veterans that could use a place to live," he said. Anyone who is looking to get involved with the stand down has plenty of options. Kelley said people can donate to the veteran warehouse, especially small appliances. Anyone willing to volunteer is encouraged to go to the YMCA on Friday.

 Kelley said they will go above and beyond to make sure any veteran can get the help they need. "If you know a veteran that is a shut in, call the 'Y' and we will come pick them up," he said. The Grant County Family YMCA can be reached at (765) 664-0544.

TOPIC 5: CAREER FAIRS

This week, work continued on The American Legion’s upcoming hiring events to be staged in Atlanta, Camp Lejeune, El Paso, Fort Hood, Fort Jackson (SC), Fort Lee (VA), Herndon (VA), Honolulu, Joint Base Andrews, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Kansas City, King George (VA), Lexington Park (MD), Peterson Air Force Base (CO), Rochester (MI), San Antonio, San Francisco, Uncasville (CT), Warwick (RI) and Washington, DC.

The mission of The American Legion's National Veterans Employment & Education Commission is to take actions that affect the economic wellbeing of veterans, including issues relating to veterans' education, employment, home loans, vocational rehabilitation, homelessness and small business.

TOPIC 6: SMALL BUSINESS

The state of New York is giving grants of up to $50,000 to farmers who are veterans for the purchase of equipment, repair of buildings and other measures to boost production. The Veterans Farmer Grant Fund was approved last week by the board of directors of Empire State Development, the state’s primary business aid group. The agency will administer the $250,000 fund. Eligible veterans have until January 26, 2018, to apply for grants between $15,000 and $50,000. The fund was established by the State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo in the 2016-17 state budget. Grants will not exceed 50 percent of the total cost of individual projects, which are to commence after February 28, 2018.

Applicants must own at least 50 percent of the farm, which must have had a minimum of $10,000 in sales last year. They also must provide proof of their military service. The state fund is the latest aid initiative for farmers who are veterans. The Farmer Veteran Coalition, a California-based group, offers grants to third parties who purchase equipment and supplies for veterans just starting out in farming or ranching. The coalition has awarded $1.2 million since it began in 2011. Last month, the coalition opened a New York State chapter, led by retired Army Colonel John Lemondes, who raises sheep and produces maple syrup and honey in upstate Jamestown.

The new veterans grant fund is based on the state’s New Farmers Grant Fund, established four years ago to help young people pursue careers in agriculture. The fund has allocated more than $2.4 million since 2014. Local grant recipients include Sannino Bella Vita Vineyard in Peconic and Cutchogue, Bhumi Farms in East Hampton, Browder’s Birds in Mattituck and Condzella Hops in Wading River.

TOPIC 7: EDUCATION

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is pushing to suspend a 50-year-old ethics law that prevents employees from receiving money or owning a stake in for-profit colleges that pocket hundreds of millions of dollars in tuition paid through the GI Bill of Rights. The VA’s Office of General Counsel held a heated session with VSO advocates, including The American Legion this past Wednesday where they were accused of lowering protections for student-veterans. The agency said the conflict-of-interest law - enacted after scandals enveloped the for-profit education industry - is now redundant and outdated, with “illogical and unintended consequences” affecting employees who have no real conflict of interest, such as a VA doctor teaching a course at a school attended by veterans with educational benefits.

But veterans’ groups and ethics experts reject those arguments and say the department is abandoning protections for veterans and taxpayers. We worry that the effort is part of a larger rollback of federal safeguards that were instituted before President Trump took office to combat abuses and fraud by for-profit colleges. Several officials who worked in the for-profit college industry and had criticized the Obama-era crackdown as excessive, for example, have joined the Education Department, which administers and polices the federal student loan program and the industry. The proposal to suspend the ethics law was published in the Federal Register in mid-September and is scheduled to take effect on October 16, but no public hearings have been scheduled and no public comments have yet been submitted.

“It’s just reckless and sloppy,” said Walter Shaub Jr, former director of the Office of Government Ethics. He questioned why such a blanket exception for more than 330,000 agency employees should exist when the law allows waivers for individuals or even classes of individuals, like those teaching courses. Invoking the waiver also requires public hearings. Most troubling is that the move seems like an attempt by the executive branch to overrule the legislative branch. They are saying that the statute is unreasonable, but instead of asking for a vote on changing the law they are making their own rules. One concern of critics is that officials at the organization’s upper levels could be making decisions about a college in which they have a financial interest, like permitting a school with a record of abuses to recruit at military bases. Another is that people advising veterans about their educational benefits could steer students to a particular school because they were on the payroll.

Two months ago, the Senate Appropriations Committee issued a report during its debate over the military budget instructing the department to review the statute - but its concern was that the current rules “may be inadequate to identify conflicts of interest that can develop” because of gifts or expensive meals. And a report issued in July by the director of the agency’s Education Service found that financial issues involving tuition and fees were by far the leading complaint among students who had called the agency’s GI Bill hotline since 2014. Dozens of other agencies also have supplemental ethics rules that have been written to address potential problems specific to those agencies. Senator Patty Murray (WA), a longtime advocate for veterans, said she planned to look into the agency’s decision. “I am deeply concerned the VA is opening the door for predatory for-profits to take advantage of men and women who have bravely served our country,” she said.

 

 

 

 

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