Tester calls on Labor Dept. to include Montana in rural veterans job training effort

Senator invites Labor official to Montana

(U.S. Senate)  – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is calling on the Department of Labor to include Montana in a new effort to help unemployed veterans in rural areas get back into the job force.

Tester is asking the Department of Labor to include Montana in the recently launched a pilot initiative to benefit rural veterans struggling with joblessness.  The initiative uses state and local organizations and volunteers to reach out to unemployed rural veterans to see what services they could best use  in order to get back into the workforce.

“Montana is home to 103,000 veterans and our entire state is rural, so it makes sense for the Department of Labor to bring this new effort to Montana to put our rural veterans back to work,” Tester said. “We owe our veterans every opportunity to succeed.  Part of that promise is making sure that the resources available are actually working to help veterans find jobs.”

In a letter to Raymond Jefferson, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans’ Employment and Training, Tester asked to expand the veterans’ employment program to Montana.  Tester also invited Jefferson to come to Montana to get a “better perspective of the challenges facing Montana veterans.”

Senator Max Baucus cosigned the letter with Tester.

“Our vets deserve only the very best, and that includes making sure they have every opportunity to succeed when they come home to Montana. The unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan vets hit a record high in January, and we need to do all we can to help them find good-paying jobs. I’ve worked to make that happen with my Vets Jobs Act. The bill is simple: you hire a recently-discharged vet, you get a tax cut. I’ll keep looking for new ways to stand up for veterans the way they fought for us.”

Tester is the author of the Rural Veterans Health Care Improvement Act, which became law last year.  The legislation permanently raised the mileage reimbursement rate for disabled veterans, opened up grants to transport veterans to VA facilities, and is strengthening recruitment and retention of quality providers in rural communities.

Tester’s letter to Jefferson appears below.


The Honorable Raymond M. Jefferson
Assistant Secretary
Veterans' Employment and Training 
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Assistant Secretary Jefferson:

Thank you for your continued service on behalf of our nation.  We appreciate your many efforts to address the unacceptably high number of jobless veterans across the country.  Largely because of your leadership, the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) has dramatically increased the resources and attention our nation now devotes toward this issue.  In particular, we are encouraged to see your office launch a pilot program that seeks to utilize partnerships with state and local organizations to expand access to employment services and programs for rural veterans.  We respectfully request that this important pilot program be expanded to include Montana veterans as soon as possible.  The feedback they could provide would serve the Department well as it develops a more comprehensive and national approach to tackling the issue of rural veterans unemployment.

Montana is home to the second highest per capita veteran population. It is also a rural state, and many of our 102,000 veterans live in frontier communities.  And, as you know, more and more of our troops are coming from small towns like Fresno, Montana, and Manhattan, Montana.  These folks are continually at the forefront of our minds because so many of the essential services they desperately need are inaccessible to them and their families.  That is the case for family support services, for health care, and certainly for employment programs, services and training for those struggling to make ends meet. 

Over the previous five years, the unemployment rate amongst Montana veterans has more than doubled – from 4.3 percent in 2005 to 9.8 percent in 2009.  That is simply unacceptable. There is much more we can do.  Yet the current funding formulas for the Disabled Veterans Opportunity Program and Local Veterans Employment  Representatives program provide only a handful of employment trainers and counselors for a state as geographically large as the entire northeastern corridor of the United States.  This reality makes it extremely difficult to adequately serve our veterans.  In the absences of much-needed changes to these formulas, additional attention must be focused on employment opportunities for rural veterans.

Our brave men and women in uniform continue to go well beyond what has been asked of them.  It is our duty to ensure they have all the resources they need while in harm’s way, and that, upon their return, they have access to the services they have earned and deserve.  That must be the case regardless of whether they are from New York City or Big Sandy, Montana.

Again, we appreciate your attention to this matter as well as your continued leadership on this issue.  We hope we can continue working closely together to expand upon some of your Department’s valuable initiatives and bring the VETS rural pilot program to the veterans of our state. We would also like to extend an open invitation for you to come to Montana.  It would provide an opportunity for you to get a better perspective of the challenges facing Montana veterans and all veterans who live in the frontier areas of our country.

Jon Tester, Max Baucus