Patty in the News

— U.S. Sen. Patty Murray is removing hurdles for military members who’ll be joining Washington’s civilian ranks.

She met with veterans and their advocates Wednesday at Olympic College to hear how her efforts are proceeding.

Passed in November 2011, Murray’s VOW to Hire Heroes Act:

— Made the military’s transition assistance program mandatory.

— Allowed military members to begin the federal employment process before they separate.

— Provided unemployed veterans of past wars with an extra year of GI Bill benefits to quality for high-demand jobs like trucking and technology.

— Made it easier to translate military skills and training into civilian licenses and certifications.

— Provided tax incentives of $5,600 for hiring veterans and $9,600 for disabled veterans who have been looking for work more than six months.

It seems to be helping. Since the bill was passed, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans has fallen from 13.1 percent in December 2011 to 7.7 percent in July. In June, for the first time in many years, the rate was lower than non-veteran unemployment — 7.2 percent vs. 7.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In each of the next several years, about 13,000 military members will join the state’s civilian ranks.

Attending the Transition Assistance Program hadn’t been mandatory, though 85 percent of outgoing sailors took advantage of it, said Pam Delaney, work and family life supervisor with Navy Region Northwest. Now it’s called Transition Goals Plan Success, and is required.

The five-day program includes financial planning for transition, translating military training and experience into the civilian world, a Department of Labor employment workshop, information about VA benefits and an individual transition plan checklist. Last week, computers resulting from Murray’s bill were installed so participation could be more hands-on than lecture-oriented. Now, service members must complete career readiness standards for employment, education or a technical career. Three-quarters of them plan to go to school, Delaney said.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility works with veterans groups because many vets wind up there. The shipyard offered 610 jobs since a hiring freeze was lifted June 18. Two hundred fifteen were to vets, who get preference. Five hundred twenty-three were accepted, said executive director Rick Tift.

“Presuming everything stays the same, we need more,” Tift said. “Six hundred is the first wave.”

Olympic College is a steppingstone to the shipyard and other employers. Last year, 1,400 veterans attended, second most among state schools.

“That’s over a quarter of our student population, so it’s part of our DNA here at Olympic,” President David Mitchell told Murray.

The event was held in OC’s veteran and military support center, which opened in May 2011. Last year, there were 4,000 visits to the center, said coordinator Larry Cleman.

Navy veteran Kathryn Halloran, who’s a student worker in the support center and studying for an associate degree in mechanical engineering, said the hardest part was going from Navy pay with housing allowance to being a student. Often there’s a gap.

Another major transition problem is getting appropriate credit for military skills and training, said Dave Siemen of Poulsbo. He was a Navy electronics technician for nearly 23 years and will graduate from OC in October with an associate degree in electronics.

“I don’t think the civilian world knows what we do,” he said. “We have all this technical knowledge, but have trouble getting technical jobs.”

Both veterans said their transitions, which came before Murray’s changes, crammed too much information into too short a time.