(Washington, DC) – At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Ranking Member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), pressed the Departments of Defense (DOD) Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Department of Labor (DOL) on what more can be done for men and women transitioning from the military to civilian life. The hearing assessed the collaboration between government agencies, private sector companies, and non-profit organizations to monitor and improve the delivery of transition programs. Federal agency witnesses from DOD, VA, and DOL, along with representatives from private sector companies Coca-Cola and Starbucks, testified on the need to identify barriers to veterans’ economic integration, address gaps in current programs, and implement policies that will promote transition success among veterans. The Committee reiterated Congress’s obligation to conduct oversight on these interagency efforts to ensure that veterans are equipped to compete in a changing economy and maximize the benefits that they have earned.
“Simply put, I think this nation is failing to address the transition problem of veterans as they return home from the military,” said Ranking Member Blumenthal. “Over the next three to four years, approximately one million servicemembers are expected to transition out of the military and into civilian life… VA estimates show approximately 53 percent of these separating Post-9/11 veterans will face a period of unemployment, despite striving and working to find stable employment…We know that a seamless transition requires getting it right the first time, rather than waiting to reach out and inform veterans after they have returned to their hometowns across America.”
Ranking Member Blumenthal invited Connecticut resident, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Zacchea, to testify and discuss his work as Founder and Program Manager of the University of Connecticut Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities and other initiatives in Connecticut that support veterans’ employment, entrepreneurship, and small businesses.
Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Zacchea stated in his testimony, “I am convinced there is pent-up market demand for entrepreneurship opportunities among veterans. I see a need to expand opportunities for veteran entrepreneurship in the next 5 years. I believe that given access to entrepreneurship training and opportunity, the post 9/11 generation of veterans would produce businesses at a rate of about 5:1 – that is, some 500,000 or more veteran-owned businesses by 2032, which will be a Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners year.” In addition to serving as Director of the University of Connecticut Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, Lt. Col Zacchea started the CT Veterans Chamber of Commerce and is a founding member of the Military Veterans Support Council, a group of Connecticut employers and employees that identifies issues around veteran hiring and workforce retention and promotion.
Witnesses also addressed the government’s interagency process to review, update, and improve the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) with a focus on improving post-separation outcomes, while witnesses from private and nonprofit sector organizations highlighted efforts and best practices for local collaboration to help veterans transition into civilian communities.
On Monday, Blumenthal and his colleagues on the Committee Senators Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) wrote to the DOD to urge increased collaboration between DOD and VA to improve support for veterans transitioning from military life.