In a noontime White House event Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama provided an encouraging progress report on efforts to persuade businesses to hire young military veterans. Obama updated her audience, which included American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz, on the two-year -ld "Joining Forces" military family support initiative she fronts with Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
Koutz joined servicemembers, fellow veterans' advocates and representatives of private industry in the East Room of the White House for the 45-minute presentation.
"It was a great program," Koutz said. "It is, of course, the first lady and Dr. Biden who are doing a great job in encouraging the hiring of veterans. Mrs. Obama said that in the first two years of their program, over 290,000 veterans or family members have been hired, with a promise from a number of large employers to hire 435,000 more in the next five years. These figures actually exceed their goals by nearly three times, so that's good news. But, as the first lady pointed out, there's more to be done."
Koutz pointed out that, from the Legion's view, the jobs for veterans movement is nothing new. "(Legion Economic Division Director) Joe Sharpe and I were talking on the way over to The White House about how we started this campaign back when I was chairman of the Economic Commission, so that's been at least eight years ago. We were pushing this back then and now it really seems to have taken off. When we start the things in The American Legion, sooner or later, it gets done.
"(The campaign) has really gained momentum now with the high profile of Dr. Biden and Michelle Obama. (The first lady) said she's getting a call almost every day from some big company saying they want to hire more veterans. So, that's great. That's just what the economy needs and, more importantly, that's what our veterans need."
Koutz said every level of The American Legion needs to be involved in veterans employment, but rather, ""The Legion's campaign for veteran employment shouldn't just be at the national or Department level," he said. "It should also be at the post level, with posts representing themselves at veterans job fairs and encouraging local employers to hire veterans. It's a job for all of us, not just in Washington, but in our hometowns, too."
The White House "Joining Forces" presentation included recognition of a number of young veterans who have been successful in their post-service job searches. Another gainfully employed veteran commented on the program from the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a brief statement, saying in part, "I applaud the first lady and Dr. Biden's leadership in challenging U.S. businesses to employ America's veterans and military spouses. Their announcement today demonstrates that American companies can benefit greatly from the highly-skilled and hard-working members of our military family.
"I welcome the commitment of businesses to hire or train (veterans) ... and am committed to ensuring that our servicemembers transitioning to civilian life and our military spouses have the support they richly deserve when it comes to finding a job, pursuing an education or starting a business."