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Crapo seeks to grow resources for returning service members, stresses Idaho’s need for skilled workers

By RILEY BUNCH rbunch@idahopress.comMay 24, 2019

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is continuing to push reform to veterans service agencies through a bill aimed at increasing resources for veterans transitioning into civilian life.

The reintroduced Improving Preparation and Resources for Occupational, Vocational, and Educational Transition for Servicemembers Act would expand the federal Transition Assistance Program, which offers various supports like counseling, career education and guidance in accessing benefits.

The legislation stalled at the end of last year’s session — Crapo cited bipartisan roadblocks but is hopeful it will move forward with other changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.

The bill outlines an overhaul of the program, adding additional staff — one program employee per 250 transitioning veterans — and mandating career technical training courses.

At the Mountain Home Air Force Base, about 700 transitioning service members pass through the program yearly. They receive help with job hunting or re-entering education, according to Steve Wright, community readiness consultant for the base.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Margaret Kealy-Machella, chief of public affairs for the Mountain Home Air Force Base, said that about a year ago, legislators reached out to the transition program staff for input.

The legislation requires the VA to establish and maintain an accessible database of national and statewide community resources — to help collect data, match veterans based on needs and help them get in touch with those resources, Crapo said.

The Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs are required to enter into agreements with state veterans services agencies and connect veterans to them.

“This bill will help more effectively channel veterans into those agencies and entities that are working there on the ground and getting them facilitated,” Crapo said.

Marv Hagedorn, administrator of the Idaho Division of Veteran Services, expressed concern during the most recent legislative session about medical staffing shortages due to low funding for competitive salaries. Hagedorn thinks if states have additional needs because of the transition legislation, that will be addressed.

“If it’s going to cause more resource needs, whether it’s going to be at the state or federal level,” Hagedorn said, “I am going to assume — knowing that Crapo worked in the Idaho legislature that requires a fiscal impact — he will also make sure that’s in there.”

The transition assistance program, Hagedorn said, has needed to be refined for years.

If there is any cost to the bill, Crapo said, it will be to fund extra staff.

“There are other agencies that need to have additional personnel because this is a multi-agency program, so staffing is something that is addressed in the bill, but it’s not the only place,” Crapo said. “In addition to the bill, we need to focus on making sure they have the appropriate funding to hire the necessary personnel to effectively accomplish these objectives.”

The help with a veteran’s transition into civilian life and ultimately into a career, Crapo said, is in the best interest of Idaho — a state with a need for educated and skill-trained workers.

“One of the things we are finding that’s an issue in Idaho — and not just in Idaho — is the very low unemployment rate indicate that we actually need more trained and educated workers,” Crapo said. “A lot of companies that want to move to Idaho and a lot of companies that are in Idaho and want to expand their operations, tell us that they need trained people with the right education and the right skillset for their companies to expand, their wages to increase and their companies to develop.”

Crapo recently signed a letter from 38 bipartisan senators to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services calling for action in stalled employment authorization forms and cited the same need for workers.

“This helps on both sides of it,” Crapo said. “It helps on the individual side because it helps to empower and improve the individuals who get the training and skillsets and it also helps the companies and the businesses that are their employers and that ripples through the community — it makes the community stronger and the economy stronger.”

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