Employment help for veterans, military spouses starts locally
Juan A. Cruz, American Legion Department of Puerto Rico adjutant speaks to the Veterans Education and Employment Commission during The American Legion's annual Washington Conference in Washington , D.C., on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019. Photo by Lucas Carter.

Employment help for veterans, military spouses starts locally

For as much as The American Legion does on a national level to help veterans and military spouses find employment, from sponsoring career fairs to supporting legislation, there’s much that can also be done at the department and even post level.

That local push ended up a point of emphasis in two panel discussions Feb. 25 before the Veterans Employment and Education Commission at the annual Washington Conference.

First, Veterans Employment and Education Division Assistant Director Ariel De Jesus invited representatives of several departments, including Bob Looby of New Jersey, Juan Cruz of Puerto Rico, Mike Espinosa of Arizona, and John McKinney of Texas, to speak about what their departments were doing to help veterans find employment.

“We want to see what the departments are doing and see what can be shared,” De Jesus said. “Just remember, what works for one department may not work as effectively for another department.”

Looby, the employment, homeless and education chairman for the Department of New Jersey, noted that his state is looking at a variety of factors affecting veteran employment.

“We realized early on, that our veterans need not only employment, but they need some other things … it’s a cause and effect syndrome. That is, homelessness, criminal justice initiatives and mental health. They’re all connected,” Looby said. So in addition to career fairs, the Department of New Jersey has worked to help homeless veterans and those incarcerated.

Puerto Rico continues to contend with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, said Cruz, the Department of Puerto Rico adjutant.

“Many of the workforce have fled Puerto Rico to the United States, looking for a better job, a better opportunity,” Cruz said.

For those still in Puerto Rico looking for work, the career fairs the department sponsors are vital. Cruz said the employers invited to those career fairs must have job openings and must be committed to the island nation.

“The economic infrastructure in Puerto Rico is bad, it needs help,” Cruz said. “We need to keep people and veterans in Puerto Rico.”

Espinosa, the Department of Arizona Veterans Employment and Education Committee chairman, said his department had partnered with state agencies, including the Arizona Department of Veterans Services, the Arizona Coalition for Military Families, and the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.

“With these partnerships, what we’ve done is job fairs on all three military bases in Arizona; we do job fairs at the posts, we try to get the posts locally involved,” Espinosa said.

And McKinney noted that it’s important to get buy-in from local workforce offices.

“If you get their support, you’ll be surprised how successful you’ll be,” McKinney said. “It improves their image in the community, along with The American Legion’s.”

Likewise, a panel of employers, including Chip Myers of Advanced Policy Consulting, Chris Hale of Neptune Holdings, and Sam Waltzer of Comcast NBCUniversal, noted the importance of local efforts to help veterans.

“(The) Legion is person to person, and for as much technology is available, many of those jobs come about because we know somebody who knows somebody,” said Hale, CEO of Neptune Holdings. “And a lot of the work that can be done to improve jobs, especially in small to mid-sized business, can be done right there at the post.”

The panel also discussed the challenges faced by military spouses when they are looking for work.

“Check out your local veteran service organizations like The American Legion, your local VFW, because they’re going to be tied in to resources for spouses,” Waltzer said. He said his company will work with military spouses impacted by permanent change of station (PCS) orders to either find them a job within the company in the new location, or, if there is no Comcast NBCUniversal presence there, work with other companies in the Military Spouse Employment Partnership.

In the afternoon, the commission’s two subcommittees split into separate sessions in order to disseminate more information by providing time for more speakers.

Charmain Bogue, interim director of education services at the Department of Veterans Affairs, spoke to the Veterans Education and Other Benefits and Homelessness Committee about the Harry W. Colmery Act, better known as the Forever GI Bill, and its implementation.

The Employment and Veterans Preference Committee heard speakers discuss topics including credit reports and the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business Workshop.

Washington Conference

Washington Conference

The American Legion's Washington Conference, held annually in our nation's capital gives our organization's leadership a chance to meet with elected officials to discuss legislative initiatives and priorities important to Legion members and their families.

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