On Labor Day, we pause to celebrate and remember the contributions of America’s work force to our nation. It is also an appropriate time to focus on another set of heroes entering America’s civilian work force—- the veterans of America’s armed forces.
Through their service, our nation’s veterans have honed the essential values required for success in the modern workplace. Their leadership, commitment, teamwork, respect, flexibility and communication have been battle-tested in ways most of us can never even imagine. Today some of our nation’s best and brightest are easy to spot—- they wear a military uniform.
Given their remarkable talent and training, you would think the transition to civilian life would be easy for our veterans and their families. But some veterans can find it difficult to land that important first job in the civilian work force. Employers and policy-makers owe it to our veterans to assist them in getting over this hurdle.
The U.S. Department of Labor is doing everything it can to reach out and assist veterans and service members as they transition to the civilian work force. It offers a number of training and assistance programs to help service members successfully build a new career in the civilian work force. Through the Transition Assistance Program, it is helping veterans learn about job searches, career decision-making, current occupational and labor market conditions, resume and cover letter preparation, and interviewing techniques.
The department is also actively working to protect the benefits and employment rights of those who bravely serve our country as members of the National Guard and Reserve. Many of these rights are protected under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which provides re-employment rights and prohibits employer discrimination against those who perform military service.
For the first time since the law was passed in 1994, the department is developing rules and regulations that clarify the ambiguities in the law and spell out the rights of our returning servicemen and women and the responsibilities of employers to honor their service.
This administration is backing up USERRA with aggressive outreach and enforcement to ensure employers fully understand the law and military reservists have confidence that their rights will be protected.
Our nation’s injured and wounded veterans have paid an especially high price for their willing service to America, and they deserve to be treated with the honor and respect they have earned. To assist these brave men and women, the Labor Department launched the Recovery and Employment Assistance Lifelines (REALifelines) initiative—- a joint project with the Department of Defense.
REALifelines is a personalized assistance network designed to ensure that each seriously wounded and injured service member who cannot return to active duty is trained for a rewarding new career in the private sector. REALifelines representatives are stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda National Naval Medical Center, and new specialists have begun work at Fort Lewis, Wash., and Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
We are by no means alone in any of these important efforts. Veterans groups and employers are active partners with us in all of these programs. Thanks to their efforts, employers all across America are stepping up with assistance, resources and most important of all—- jobs.
How can veterans and employers access these and other programs? A good starting point is the comprehensive Web site—- www.hirevetsfirst.gov—- launched by the Labor Department in consultation with the president’s National Hire Veterans Committee. The Web site helps employers find qualified veterans, and helps veterans tap into the government’s national network of employment resources.
Veterans are 25 percent of the current federal civilian work force. At the Department of Labor, we are fortunate to have more than 3,200 veterans, reservists and National Guard members working on our team. So we know firsthand how effective they are in the workplace.
This Labor Day is an opportunity to reflect upon the tremendous contributions our nation’s veterans can make to our work force. Their skills, character and talent are an enormous asset to any organization.
They are there for us when we need them. Now it’s our turn to be there for them. Hire vets first.