By Thomas E. Perez
Helping veterans isn’t just a part of my job. For me, it’s personal.
On Veterans Day, I can’t help but think of my uncles who volunteered for the service after fleeing a brutal regime in the Dominican Republic. They hadn’t been in America long, but they were already so grateful for its opportunities that they were eager to serve.
I can’t help but think of my father. Even before he was a naturalized American, he served with distinction in the Army. And when he left the military, he made service to returning heroes in this community his career, as a physician at the Buffalo VA Medical Center.
Protecting the rights of service members was an important part of my work as assistant attorney general for civil rights. And now as labor secretary, I oversee the federal government’s lead agency in helping veterans find good jobs in the civilian economy.
We give veterans priority of service at our nearly 2,600 American Job Centers – one-stop shops where job seekers can access all the resources they need.
We have launched an online tool, www.mynextmove.org/vets, where veterans can enter their military occupation code and discover civilian occupations for which they are well qualified.
With the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, we have completely overhauled the Transition Assistance Program, which helps exiting service members prepare for civilian life.
We have a new initiative designed specifically to address the unique challenges facing women veterans. And this past summer, we announced a new regulation requiring companies that do business with the federal government to establish hiring goals for veterans.
There has been some encouraging news on overall veterans’ unemployment. But among post-9/11 veterans, unemployment was unacceptably high at 9.3 percent during the third quarter of 2013. And shockingly, the very youngest veterans (ages 18 to 24) have experienced jobless rates as high as 20 percent and above. More than 62,000 veterans were homeless on a given night in 2012.
Many employers are making veteran recruitment a top priority. The question isn’t: Why would you want to hire a veteran? It’s: Why wouldn’t you? Veterans represent the very best America has to offer. They have received world-class training in specialized areas – everything from engineering to emergency medicine to IT. They also possess less tangible but essential skills – dependability and teamwork, problem-solving and leadership, mental strength and resilience – that are valued in every industry and workplace.
We have asked a lot of our military over the last 12 years. Now our troops are coming home. We must serve them as selflessly as they have served us.
Today, we honor veterans. The best way to honor a veteran is to hire one.
Thomas E. Perez, a Buffalo native, is U.S. Secretary of Labor.