America celebrated Veterans Day this week to thank the nation’s military veterans for their service. But we fall short if it stops at words. We need to be vigilant in honoring our nation’s veterans through our actions.
According to the Census Bureau, there were more than 18.2 million veterans as of 2017. The federal government has been committed to caring for these men and women since our country’s founding. In fact, Congress first passed legislation ensuring pensions for Revolutionary War vets back in 1789.
Since then, as our military has grown, the federal government has kept its promise to these heroes by continuing to provide medical care, rehabilitation services, job training programs and other modes of support. But the fact is that many veterans, especially when they first leave the service, are still in the primes of their lives. That is why employment is such a critical component of any effort to support our nation’s vets.
As former Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, I know the government is playing a role here as well. The U.S. Department of Labor, for instance, runs the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) which helps connect veterans with employers and issues awards to job creators “for their efforts to recruit, employ, and retain our Nation’s veterans.”
Another example is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) initiative, known as the Veterans Curation Program (VCP), that turns veterans into archeologists. USACE construction projects routinely uncover artifacts and the VCP program offers veterans five-month contracts of 40 hours per week salaried employment, where they have the opportunity to learn new skills such as database management, computer software proficiency and photography that can translate to the broader workforce.
But government can’t do this alone, nor should it. Fortunately, private companies are stepping up to the plate. Companies such as The Home Depot, JP Morgan Chase, Charter Communications and UPS have a long track record of implementing meaningful programs that benefit our vets. Charter’s workforce alone is about 13% veterans, which is double the government guideline for veteran hiring.
With Virginia’s large veterans community, this issue is of paramount importance in the commonwealth. The Virginia Department of Veterans Services runs a program called Virginia Values Veterans, which has a mission to “to educate and train employers throughout the Commonwealth on the Value of Virginia’s Veterans, and to help employers connect with these personnel assets to maximize the productivity of their workforce.”
And the commonwealth’s employers, both large and small, have heard the call. In fact, roughly 20% of Dominion Energy’s new hires are veterans and the company was honored with a “Best for Military Vets” award from the Military Times in 2019.
Many of the types of jobs that companies such as The Home Depot and Dominion provide to vets take advantage of the unique skill sets that these men and women bring with them when they leave uniformed service. Installation and maintenance professions rank high on the list. With the evolving state of manufacturing, this will likely benefit this community in coming years.
One project that caught my eye was Dominion’s recently announced wind energy project off the shore of Virginia Beach. I previously served as Virginia’s Secretary of Natural Resources under Gov. Jim Gilmore, so I am well aware of the environmental benefits this project can bring to Hampton Roads and the commonwealth. And know there are numerous veterans in our community who have the skill sets required to get this project up and running.
These are the type of next generation projects that our nation’s vets are perfectly equipped to help staff. It is up to all of us to continue to look for ways to support our nation’s heroes. Not just with words, but with actions. And whenever possible, a meaningful job.