It was praise for private industry and The American Legion on Jan. 28, as members of the House Committee on Veterans Affair convened to ask, as the hearing's title stated, "What can the Federal Government Learn from the Private Sector's Successful Approach to Hiring Veterans?"
Committee chairman Jeff Miller was away on other business that morning, so the session was chaired by Rep. Phil Roe. The Tennessee Republican opened the hearing with encouraging news. He quoted the Dec. 2013 unemployment rate among military veterans as 5.5 percent.
"This is in sharp contrast to December of 2010 when the unemployment rate for all veterans was 8.3 percent,," Roe said. "This equates to a difference of over 369,000 jobs and more veterans finding work.
"While I believe that programs like the new GI Bill and VRAP (Veterans Retraining Assistance Program) have helped position veterans to obtain the skills needed to get a job in today's tough economy, the most significant factor in the drop in the unemployment rate has been that American corporations and most especially small businesses have truly stepped up to the plate and have made it a priority to recruit, hire and retain veterans. These companies and trade associations have made hiring veterans a priority not out of charity but because it is simply a good business decision. They've learned that the soft and hard skills, as well as the incredible work ethic that veterans bring to the table, are a match and make them excellent employees."
After a round similarly upbeat opening remarks by Ranking Member Mike Michaud, D-Maine, and other committee members, Roe called upon a panel of five witnesses to tell their tales of veteran hiring initiatives. The first to speak was retired Army Brig. Gen. Gary Profit, senior director of military programs for retail giant Walmart. He reiterated the company's highly publicized pledge to offer a job to any "qualified veteran who has been honorably discharged." Profit has appeared repeatedly as a panelist in Veterans Employment & Education Commission-hosted discussions at Legion Washington Conferences and national conventions.
Sean Kelley, a senior staffing director at Microsoft Corporation, spoke of the software company's assertive efforts to leverage the information technology skills veterans bring to the civilian workplace with additional training and job placement.
Maureen Casey, managing director of military and veterans affairs for JPMorgan Chase, then talked of the mammoth financial firm's commitment to the employment of veterans, pointing proudly to the fact that they have exceeded their original veteran hiring goals. The Legion has also worked with JPMorgan Chase on its veteran hiring initiatives.
Jim Amos, a veteran himself – as is Microsoft's Sean Kelley -- spoke on behalf of the International Franchise Association. He encouraged veterans to go into business for themselves through the franchise purchase route. The franchise industry, he said, is generous in offering special incentives and assistance to help veterans get established.
The last witness of the day was Ross Cohen, another party with whom the Legion's Veterans Employment & Education Division staff has worked closely. Cohen is senior director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's three-year-old "Hiring Our Heroes" program and in his testimony lauded The American Legion for its strong hand in staging over 200 job fairs for veterans nationwide, saying "The American Legion provides invaluable resources in every state." It was the Legion and the Chamber who conducted a two-day National Credentialing and Licensing Summit two years ago. The event gave renewed impetus to the private and public sectors' efforts to hire more veterans.
After the testimonies, Roe thanked the witnesses not only for the content of their statements, but its "good news" nature. "For me, many times I will come to these hearing s and leave in a depressed mood," he said. "This has actually elevated my mood -- and in Washington, that's doing something."
Committee members and witnesses agreed that dedicated veteran hiring practices must be pursued to meet the challenges presented by the rapidly increasing number of young veterans entering the civilian workplace as troop draw downs and trimming of the armed forces continue.