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Lawmaker: Find 400K jobs for vets in two years

Jun. 1, 2011 - 02:58PM   |   Last Updated: Jun. 1, 2011 - 02:58PM  |  
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The chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee announced an ambitious goal Wednesday of finding jobs for 400,000 veterans within two years, a move that would reduce the unemployment rate for veterans of all generations from 7.7 percent today to about 4.5 percent.

To do this, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said he doesn't want to create new programs or spend additional money. Instead, he wants to concentrate on making sure existing public and private programs are working efficiently.

"Good jobs are out there. We just need to retool our programs so veterans can compete for them," Miller said.

The problem might be more difficult, requiring that a broad sword be taken to bureaucracy that could be making it harder for veterans to land jobs.

Veterans looking for jobs — and the employers who might want to hire them — face a confusing array of programs, a panel of employment experts told the committee.

There are 8,000 websites providing information about veterans' employment, said Jolene Jefferies of Direct Employers Association, a non-profit group that helps 600 U.S. corporations with recruiting strategies. For all of that information, there is nothing available that tells employers how to locate veterans who are qualified for the available jobs, said Jefferies, the association's vice president for strategic initiatives.

Henry Jackson of the Society for Human Resource Management said companies trying to hire veterans are often confused about where to seek help.

"Employers would greatly benefit from having a more streamlined set of resources that they can consult to find veteran talent, post their open positions and find information about hiring veterans and other transitioning service members," Jackson said.

It also would help to know what works, said Kevin Schmiegel, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's vice president for veterans employment. His organization hosts job fairs around the nation to help link veterans and employers, but Schmiegel said it remains unclear how many veterans are landing jobs. After a big job fair in Chicago earlier this year, Schmiegel said a survey was sent to participating employers, but only 20 percent responded.

Schmiegel suggested veterans employment could grow by simply linking veterans and employers.

"Ninety percent of military occupations are directly transferable to the private sector," he said.

Veterans, though, have difficulty translating their military experience into civilian terms. And employers can be reluctant to hire veterans, especially if they are concerned that combat veterans may have post-traumatic stress disorder, or that Guard and reserves members could be mobilized for an extended deployment.

Marshall Hanson of the Reserve Officers Association said employers' concerns need to be addressed as part of a hiring initiative, which could include increased notification time when Guard and reserve members are about to deploy.

Miller said there needs to be a careful review of what works and what doesn't. There are advocates for a large federal program that would serve as a one-stop resource for veterans and employers, but it is not clear if such a program would solve the problems.

Schmiegel, for example, said his experience has shown that many people leaving the military think about the future in terms of where they are going to live, not what job they might find. That thought process seems to favor local hiring programs over federal programs, he said.

Miller said the current unemployment rate for all veterans is 7.7 percent, with about 875,000 veterans looking for jobs. He doesn't expect to find 400,000 jobs overnight; he said it is a goal he wants met "in the next year, or two years at the outside."

There are several bills pending before Congress aimed at improving veterans' employment, and Miller said he is working on his own package. He is still working on the details, but the bill will not create additional bureaucracy and won't have a large price tag, he said. He wants, in general, for the government to streamline existing programs to focus on what works, and to hold program managers more accountable for results — judged by whether veterans are getting jobs. He also wants to make sure that programs focus not just on newly separating veterans, but also on middle-aged veterans who have lost work and are far removed from the transition assistance and job training programs helping newer veterans.

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