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American Legion Addressing Veteran Credentialing
 

By Stephenie Overman  6/5/2014
 

The American Legion is working to help service personnel apply their training and experience toward recognized civilian certifications and licenses well before they separate from the military.

These efforts come at a time when the Department of Defense’s (DOD) drawdown in military strength leaves “a ton of veterans, after two wars, in a fragile economy,” said Steve Gonzalez, deputy director of employment and education programs for the American Legion and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, during a May 16, 2014, news conference in Washington, D.C.

The Legion is working “to bring stakeholders together so that there are no longer silos” in various agencies that work with service members who are leaving the military, he said. The goal is “not just to help decrease veteran unemployment, but to help the economy.”

Credentialing is a way for service members to get recognition for the training they have already completed while in the military, said Bill Brigman, senior policy analyst with the information management firm Solutions for Information Design LLC, during the same news conference. Brigman, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, said this offers a quicker entry into the job market and “creates a new pathway” for returning service members who are not headed for college.

“We’d like to see a marriage” between the military and business, Brigman added. “We know industries have gaps. If we could get ‘bridge’ training for people in the military, could that fill the gap?”

Proposed Legislation Would Expand TAP

But the costs of obtaining not only needed bridge training, but administrative fees for such credentialing, can be prohibitive for many enlisted personnel. On May 15, 2014, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., introduced legislation (S. 2341), called the Credentialing Improvement for Troop Talent (CREDIT) Act of 2014, to help alleviate some of those financial burdens and facilitate the transition to the civilian workforce. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Expand the current military Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) to help cover credentialing expenses by authorizing the use of existing funds to pay for licensing fees and additional expenses such as training materials and test fees.
  • Reduce the cost of military unemployment insurance and expenses by allowing service members to earn licenses and civilian credentials prior to transitioning into the civilian workforce, thereby increasing their chances of getting private-sector jobs.

Newly separated veterans under the age of 25 already have unemployment rates hovering at or above 18 percent.

“It might be able to make their burden a little less,” Brigman said. “Unemployment is a drain on DOD and it’s hard on morale.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Service Branches Get Involved

To help with the process, the Army and Navy have established public information sites—Army Credentialing Opportunities Online (Army COOL) and Navy Credentialing Opportunities Online (Navy COOL)—that provide information to soldiers and sailors about how they can meet civilian certification and license requirements related to their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). The sites also are useful to employers interested in learning how military training and experience prepares veterans for civilian jobs.

“They are great information sources. COOL databases lay out certification requirements, eligibility factors, exams. You can look at that, look at your own training and assess where there is a gap,” Brigman said. “A lot of times community colleges can provide gap training” that allows veterans to move quickly and smoothly into civilian jobs.

The COOL program identifies skill linkages, not just titles, which can be especially helpful to people who were infantry, where there is not a “direct linkage” to civilian jobs, but who have leadership, teamwork and managerial skills.

“We see valuable attributes there,” he added.

The Air Force plans to establish its own program, Brigman noted. It already has the Community College of the Air Force, which partners with more than 100 affiliated Air Force schools, 82 education service offices worldwide and more than 1,500 civilian academic institutions.

Companies “want to hire. There’s good will, but what we see is a communication gap” between civilian managers and former service members, Brigman said. “Certification and licensing is a language that HR managers speak.”

Part of the problem, he added, is that “we don’t have a high number of veterans any more” in the workplace. “It’s a shift from the Vietnam and World War II generations, where we used to have people who were very familiar with the military. Now we don’t have that exact and direct link.”

Stephenie Overman is a freelance writer based in Reston, Va.

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