Surviving Spouses Would Get Access to Vets Job Program Under Bipartisan Senate Bill

Chief Master-at-Arms Eric Seal attends a free hiring event
Chief Master-at-Arms Eric Seal attends a free hiring event held for service members, veterans and military spouses at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam's Military & Family Support Center, June 22, 2017. (Justin Pacheco/U.S. Navy)

Surviving spouses of service members who died on active duty or of a service-connected disability would gain access to a job counseling program created for veterans under a bipartisan Senate proposal being introduced Wednesday.

The bill, from Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., would allow surviving spouses to get career counseling from specialists within the Department of Labor's Disabled Veterans Outreach Program, or DVOP.

"After the terrible loss of a service member, we must do everything that we can to support their families," Hassan said in a statement to ahead of the bill's release. "This bipartisan bill is a commonsense way to help address the challenges that surviving spouses can face in their careers, and we must continue working to support our service members and their families."

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DVOP, which is housed within the Veterans' Employment and Training Service at the Department of Labor, supplies grants for states to hire specialists who can provide individualized career placement services for veterans with significant barriers to employment.

The program provided specialists to 93% of the more than 44,000 veterans who received help from the Department of Labor's Jobs for Veterans State Grants Program in the 2022 program year, according to the department. The grant program overall had a 56.6% employment rate at the end of that year.

Hassan and Cassidy's bill comes after policymakers have worked in recent years to reduce the stubbornly high unemployment rate for military spouses.

For example, last year, President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at increasing employment opportunities for military spouses, veteran spouses, caregivers and survivors. The defense policy bill Congress passed last year also made it easier for military spouses to work remotely for the federal government.

No specific data or report on surviving spouse employment spurred Hassan and Cassidy's bill, but Hassan has heard about the issue from constituents for "a while," her office said.

Past studies have also shown that surviving spouses can have lower incomes for years after their spouses' death as barriers such as psychological effects and time demands keep them from full participation in the labor force.

Expanding eligibility for DVOP services to surviving spouses is not expected to require any new funding since the Department of Labor has assessed that existing specialists can handle the increased number of people using the program, according to a fact sheet from Hassan's office.

It's unclear whether or when the bill will come up for a vote, but military-related proposals with bipartisan support often get included in the annual defense policy bill.

"We often thank the wife or husband of those serving overseas for their sacrifice," Cassidy said in a statement. "If we really mean this, then a Gold Star spouse should be able to continue to access the services that they accessed when their husband or wife was alive."

Related: Here's What Biden's New Executive Order Will Do for Military Spouses

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