In a spirited half-hour meeting Jan. 19, American Legion National Commander Jimmie Foster and John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), agreed to work together closely to help solve the unemployment crisis among America's veterans. Foster, in Washington on Legion business, said Berry is "the right man for the job."
"It's personal with me," Berry said. "My father (a U.S. Marine) was on Guadalcanal during the whole invasion, and my uncle gave his life in the Pacific in World War II. The well-being of our veterans means an awful lot to me."
The two men spoke about the continuing difficulties of young veterans in finding work after returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Their jobless rate has actually increased, even as national unemployment drops.
Of particular concern to Berry, who spoke at the Legion's national convention last summer, is veteran employment within government agencies. OPM, described accurately by Legion Economic Division Deputy Director Mark Walker as "the government's HR department," has initiated a campaign to increase the number of veteran new hires within government agencies.
"I'm going to hold their feet to the fire," Berry said, "and we need to start recruiting even before (servicemembers) leave the service. ‘Here's a way to continue to serve your country.'"
Foster agreed enthusiastically and pledged the Legion's continued support in promoting veteran employment through its job fairs, small business workshops and publicity campaigns.
Berry was pleased. "When we say it, it's one thing. But when the Legion says it – that has power," he said.
Serious matters aside, the meeting was punctuated with laughter. At one point, noting Berry's former employment as director of the National Zoo, Foster asked, "Is there a correlation between that job and this one?"
Berry replied, "As a matter of fact, there is. I find that both animals and people respond well to treats."