Helping transitioning servicemembers and veterans just find jobs isn’t enough, James Rodriguez told The American Legion’s Veterans Employment and Education (VEE) Commission.
“We want to help them find meaningful careers, with family-sustaining wages,” said Rodriguez, the acting assistant secretary of the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (DOL-VETS).
Rodriguez and other speakers addressed the commission on Monday via Zoom as part of The American Legion’s annual Washington Conference, which took place virtually due to pandemic restrictions.
In a pre-recorded video message, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., noted that the transition from military service to civilian employment “can be a real serious challenge.”
“We need to make sure we’re providing the tools necessary to smooth that transition and enable our veterans to capitalize on the skills they gained in the military,” Duckworth said. “That’s why I’m focusing this Congress on helping make sure that we can streamline transitioning military licenses and credentials into the civilian sector. There’s more we can do to work with our local partners like community colleges and vocational schools to set transitioning servicemembers up for success. Above all, it’s important to me that we are taking the best possible care of our veterans.”
Keynote speaker Richard Trumka, president of the AFL/CIO, noted that “inequality and financial instability are among the most sinister enemies that veterans face when they take off the uniform.
“When our heroes return home, we know too many struggle to find a sense of purpose,” Trumka said.
He said that most veterans take home less than $50,000 a year. “In fact, 31 percent of working veterans earn less than $31,000 a year. And they don’t have health insurance, or a retirement plan. That’s not enough to get ahead. That’s not even enough to get by.”
And those numbers have a dire influence on the rate of suicide among veterans.
“In the richest country in the world, in the 21st century, your dignity and your job and your income and your savings should never lead someone to take their own life,” Trumka said.
Boris Kun, director of workforce and credentialing programs with the Department of Defense, said the DoD is assessing what servicemembers receive when they’re going through the military.
“Because at the end of the day, the Department of Defense, we’re a workforce machine,” Kun said.
He stressed the importance of credentialing to help the transition from the military to the civilian world.
“When we talk about income potential and having the ability to actually earn wages that are comparable to what the servicemembers were making when they became veterans, that is so critical. … That’s where credentials come in,” Kun said.
Charmain Bogue, executive director of the VA Education Service, emphasized that GI Bill benefits don’t just apply to a traditional two-year or four-year college.
“We’re talking non-college degree programs, we’re talking on-the-job training programs, we’re talking about apprenticeship programs, we really do offer the full gamut,” Bogue said. “I always tell folks, don’t just think about a degree program when you think about (GI Bill programs), think about, ‘What’s my educational goal and where do I want to go?’”