Oregon soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Kuwait this spring will come home to a transition-assistance program after all.

Sen. Ron Wyden’s office said early Friday the National Guard Bureau will restore to Oregon more than $1.4 million in federal money the state failed to capture last fall because of a contracting snag.

For reasons that still aren’t clear, no qualified vendor emerged to bid on the state’s solicitation to run the Joint Transition Assistance Program. When the fiscal year ended, the program came to abrupt close, throwing 16 contract employees out of work and leaving military veterans with less of a safety net.

The restored funding means the Oregon National Guard can hire 10 people to help soldiers and their families as they transition back to civilian life. Much of that work is focused on helping soldiers find jobs.

The Joint Transition Assistance Program provides a variety of services, particularly employment help, to military veterans returning to civilian life. It helped place at least 1,200 Oregon veterans in jobs during the 2013-2014 fiscal year. It has become a popular tool for the National Guard Bureau’s force of part-time soldiers in Oregon and around the country.

“Our Guardsmen put their careers on hold and their lives at risk to answer the country’s call,” Wyden said in a statement released early Friday. As somebody who helped establish JTAP, I’m just so honored to announce that these critical services will be there when our Guardsmen need them most.”

The Oregon Guard leadership is “absolutely ecstatic” that it can relaunch the assistance program, said its spokesman, Maj. Stephen Bomar. He said the program will restart “as soon as physically possible.”

Oregon’s was the only National Guard organization to fail to fund an employment assistance program this year. An Oregon Guard spokesman said at the time the state was “shocked” that it lost the money.

The timing was especially unfortunate for about 900 Oregon soldiers and airmen who are deployed in Afghanistan and Kuwait and are scheduled to return to the state this year. Some  don’t have jobs waiting for them.

Last October, Wyden and the other six members of Oregon’s congressional delegation signed a letter to the National Guard Bureau expressing “outrage that the United States Property and Fiscal Office was unable to award a contract” and calling it a “needless lapse in services.” The letter asked a series of questions about how the bidding process in Oregon went awry.

Thursday’s response by the National Guard Bureau provided no answers about the failures in the contracting process. The bureau continues to conduct an audit into the question. The Oregonian also has sought additional information under the Freedom of Information Act, but that request remains bottled up.

In his statement hailing the restoration of the transition assistance funding, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said “Our troops have stood up for us, and now we must stand up for them. Providing our veterans with the necessary resources to help find jobs here in Oregon is crucial to the transition back to civilian life.”

— Mike Francis

[email protected]
503-412-7014
@oregonianmike

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