(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the state of efforts to hire veterans. The speech focused on what steps private businesses are taking that are improving veterans hiring and what challenges veterans still face in the job market. The speech comes after extensive discussions Murray has had with private employers, veterans, and employment experts on what’s working and what isn’t in the effort to hire veterans. Recent labor statistics show that unemployment, particularly among young veterans, remains unacceptably high.
Full text of Senator Murray’s speech:
“Next week Americans will spend time honoring and commemorating the men and women who died fighting for our great country. Memorial Day is a day to reflect on and give thanks for the sacrifices made by those who made the ultimate sacrifice—but it is also a day to look forward and to think about what we all can do to help our veterans who have also sacrificed so much—and who deserve our support when they come home. So, I come to the floor today to discuss an issue that, quite frankly, defies common sense.
“The high rate of unemployment among recently separated veterans is an issue that continues to make the transition home for veterans harder than ever. Despite the fact that our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century. Our veterans continue to struggle.
“Despite the skill, talent and training of our veterans, statistics have continued to paint a grim picture. According to the Department of Labor, young veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have an unemployment rate that is nearly 20%. That is one in five of our nation’s heroes who can’t find a job to support their family, don’t have an income that provides stability, and don’t have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home.
“We know this shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t let the skills and training our nation’s veterans have attained go to waste. And that’s why we all joined together to overwhelmingly pass my VOW to Hire Heroes Act here in the Senate late last year. Among many other things, this law provides tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire veterans, makes participation in the Transition Assistance Program mandatory for most separating servicemembers, and expands the education and training we provide transitioning servicemembers.
“Thanks to this legislation we have been able to take a real, concrete step toward putting our veterans to work. The tax credit is working. And VA is set to begin accepting applications for a retraining program that will benefit unemployed veterans ages 35-60 and help get them back to work. This bill is only that, a first step.
“Today, I’d like to talk about the next step. And that step is to build partnerships with private businesses large and small – all across the country – to hire our nation’s heroes.
“Just recently I was in New York where I participated in a lively roundtable discussion hosted by the Robin Hood Foundation. This discussion on veterans’ employment was moderated by Tom Brokaw on the USS Intrepid and brought together people of various backgrounds – including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan – to talk about this important issue. What is very apparent is that there is momentum to build public/private partnerships. What is also apparent is that there is a lot of room for improvement in this area.
“Now, I want to first make it clear that a lot of companies across the country are far ahead of the curve on this. In fact, many private sector companies have already joined our efforts in addressing this critical issue. For example, JC Penney, one of America’s largest retailers, and Joseph Abboud, a men’s clothing company, partnered with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to launch the Welcome Home Joe – Thanks a Million Program. To prepare veterans for job interviews, this program has provided 5,000 veterans with certificates to purchase business attire.
“For the last decade we have expected our brave men and women in uniform to prepare for the battlefield. In the process, they have become accustomed to wearing combat boots and battle dress uniforms. Now they are expected wear a suit and tie for job interviews - something that sometimes seems foreign to them. But thanks to this program, thousands of transitioning veterans can now hang-up their battle dress uniforms and dress for their next challenge.
“Other companies like, Schneider National, one of America’s largest trucking companies, are realizing that the skills our veterans have gained over the last decade of war are directly applicable to their businesses. Schneider National recognizes that a veteran who has driven a seven-ton truck across Afghanistan’s dangerous and rugged terrain is more than qualified to drive a freight truck across our nation’s roads. And in addition to providing many veterans with new jobs, Schneider National also provides newly separated veterans with on-the-job training through their Military Apprenticeship Program. As part of the program, veteran employees are eligible to earn a monthly educational benefit check from the VA in addition to a paycheck. Schneider National serves as an example of how companies can hire veterans that have proven they can perform the job, but lack proper certifications for civilian employment.
“The US Chamber of Commerce also must be commended for launching its Hiring Our Heroes initiative which has sponsored 150 hiring fairs in 48 states. At one of these recent hiring fairs, General Electric, the employer of 10,000 veterans launched its Veterans Network Transition Assistance Program. As part of this program General Electric has vowed to hire 1,000 additional veterans every year for the next five years and will provide job-seeking veterans with one-on-one mentoring sessions. These sessions help transitioning veterans improve resume writing and interviewing techniques so they can capitalize on the skills they’ve developed during military service.
“This is just a fraction of the work being done at our nations employers. There are many other success stories at big companies like Home Depot, and at small companies like General Plastics in my home state - which has created a pipeline to hire veterans at its aerospace composites factory. All of these companies are not only examples of success stories – they have also created a roadmap for how best to find, hire, and train veterans. And it’s our job to make sure those lessons are being heard. So today I want to lay out a few things that all businesses – large and small – can do to bring our nation’s heroes into their companies.
“First, please help to get the word out to companies to educate their human resources teams about the benefits of hiring veterans and how skills learned in the military translate to the work a company does. I can’t tell you how often I hear from veterans who tell me that the terms they use in interviews and on resumes fail to get through to interviewers.
“Second, please help companies provide job training and resources for transitioning servicemembers. This is something I’ve seen done at large organizations like Amazon and Microsoft but also at smaller companies in conjunction with local colleges. In fact, the most successful of these programs capitalize on skills developed during military service but also utilize on-the-job training.
“Third, let business leaders know how important it is to publicize job openings with Veterans Service Organizations, at local military bases to help connect veterans with jobs, and to work with local One-Stop Career Centers.
“Fourth, develop an internal veterans group within your company to mentor recently discharged veterans,
“And finally, if you can, please reach out to local community colleges and universities to help develop a pipeline of the many, many veterans that are using GI bill benefits to gain employment in your particular area.
If we can spread the message on just a few of these steps, I’m confident that we will be able to continue to build on the success we have had in hiring veterans.
“But there’s one other – even more important step we have to insure that businesses are taking – and it has to do with the difficult issue of the invisible wounds of war some potential employees face.
“I have heard repeatedly from veterans that they do not put their military service on resumes because they fear it stigmatizes them. They fear that those who have not served see them all as damaged, or unstable. We must understand what mental health challenges are, and what they are not. As we seek to employ more veterans, we need future bosses and coworkers to understand that issues like post-traumatic stress or depression are natural responses to some of the most stressful events a person can experience. We need them to understand that these illnesses do not afflict every veteran. And most importantly, we need them to understand that for those who are affected by these illnesses: they can get help, they can get better, and they can get back into their lives.
“We need to let businesses know that if they have a veteran who is facing some challenges, that they should do the right thing and encourage him or her get help. They need to know it is okay to reach out. Help them take advantage of the excellent mental health care that the VA is capable of providing. The veteran will be better, and they will be an even stronger member of your team.
“Those are some steps that our employers can take, but we also need to make sure that our veterans are taking steps to make sure they stand out as candidates. Unfortunately, too often our veterans don’t see how their skills translate from the battle field to the working world. And one of the biggest reasons for this barrier is that often our veterans don’t understand the vernacular of the working world.
“Just a few weeks ago I was at home in Washington state discussing these issues when I met Anne Spurte. Anne is a veteran who helps other local veterans find work through an organization called The Unfinished Mission. Anne told me about how she often heard from veterans who told her they weren’t qualified for the jobs they’d seen online or in the paper. Repeatedly, they told her they didn’t see how their experiences mattered to employers in the area. So one day in front of a whole group of veterans, Anne pulled out this job advertisement from Boeing for a position as a fabrication specialist. And Anne could once again sense that the veterans who read the ad thought they weren’t qualified for the manufacturing job listed in Boeing’s Space Exploration Division. But then Anne concentrated all the veterans in the room’s attention on the competencies and qualifications section listed in the job advertisement.
“And she asked all of them: ‘Did you spend time in the service working together to remove obstacles to help the team accomplish its goals?’ ‘Did you work to fully involve others in team decisions and actions?’ ‘Where you held responsible?’ ‘Did you demonstrate your commitment to the team?’
“Around the room every head was nodding as she read verbatim from the Boeing job announcement. Every veteran understood that they had the core skills employers like Boeing were looking for -- they just didn’t realize it.
“What Anne made those veterans come to understand was that their skills were being lost in translation. And what many of them needed to do was to simply articulate their experiences in a way that employers understood.
“So I today I want to reiterate to all of our veterans that no matter what branch you served in, when you served, or how long you served – the skills you learned are valuable – and it’s up to you to make sure that employers see that.
“Our veterans don’t ask for a lot. Often times they come home and don’t even acknowledge their own sacrifices. My own father never talked about his time fighting in World War II. In fact, I never saw his Purple Heart, knew that he had a wallet with shrapnel in it, or a diary that detailed his time in combat -- until after he had died and my family gathered to sort through his belongings.
“But our veterans shouldn’t have to ask. We should know to provide for them.
“When my father’s generation came home from the war – they came home to opportunity. My father came home to a community that supported him. He came home to college - then to a job. A job that gave him pride. A job that helped him start a family. And one that ultimately led to me starting my own. That’s the legacy of opportunity we have to live up to for today’s veterans.
“Together working with the private sector we can ensure the brave men and women who have worn our uniform have that opportunity. We can ensure they get a fair shot from America’s employers and they are not measured by fear or stigma. But by what they can do, what they have done, and what they will do.
“I want to thank those companies that are leading the way to ease our veterans’ transition from military service to the civilian workforce. The Veterans’ Affairs Committee website has a list of some of those companies that are contributing to this effort. I would encourage my colleagues to visit that website and suggest companies that can be added to that list. I look forward to working with you – and many more of our nation’s businesses - on this important next step in bringing our veterans home to opportunity.
“And as we celebrate our fallen heroes on Memorial Day next week, let’s all keep thinking about how we can make sure our veterans are getting everything they need after they have give so much.
“Before I yield the floor, I’d like to take just a moment to acknowledge a young Marine Reservist, and Afghanistan combat veteran—who has been working part-time on my Veterans’ Affairs Committee staff for the last year. Carlos Fuentes is a hard-working, well-liked young man who graduated from American University earlier this month. He has helped the Committee gain a better understanding of what our veterans are facing when looking for work. I want to thank him for his continued service to our Nation. I also want to note that Carlos will be getting married this weekend. And I want to wish him and his bride very happy years to come.
“Thank you. I yield the floor.”