New Jersey, Michigan job fairs help veterans

Two Hiring Our Heroes job fairs were held last week, one in Camden, N.J., and one in Traverse City, Mich.

In Camden, more than 200 current and retired servicemen and women attended a veterans job fair, where 52 employers, ranging from police departments to software engineering firms, were recruiting.

This was the 12th job fair organized by The American Legion Department of New Jersey since October 2011, as part of the "Hiring Our Heroes" initiative, a program spearheaded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and The American Legion. Nationwide, "Hiring Our Heroes" has helped more than 100,000 veterans and military spouses find employment, with more than 18,000 of them being directly hired at the hundreds of job fairs hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and The American Legion.

"It’s important because more veterans are getting out of service now – both male and female," said Bob Looby, chairman of Economics and Employment for the Department of New Jersey. "They entered right after high school, and for many of them, they don’t have very many skills outside of military skills … In this economy, it’s competitive out there for everyone; we’re just trying to help our brothers and sisters find a job."

In Traverse City, 59 employers and 10 service providers were connected with 118 job seekers from the local military population during a fair on April 23. The Department of Michigan, which assisted with outreach for this event, and Mark Sutton, who hosted a table on behalf of Department of Michigan, helped make the event successful. Throughout the day, 226 résumés were collected, 87 interviews were conducted and 27 job offers were made onsite.

For veterans looking for employment, the United States Chamber of Commerce recently unveiled a new online résumé resource for veterans.

In other news:

Helping homeless vets: The Economic and Legislative Divisions met on April 25 with Sen. Barbara Boxer of California to discuss Senate Bill 62, Check the Box for Homeless Veterans Act of 2013, which she reintroduced in the 113th Congress. If enacted, the legislation would give taxpayers the option to check a box on their annual tax return and make a voluntary contribution to a new Homeless Veterans Assistance Fund established by the U.S. Treasury. Donations would be used to provide assistance to homeless veterans through initiatives at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Labor. The American Legion seeks and supports any legislative or administrative proposal that will provide medical, rehabilitative, and employment assistance to homeless veterans and their families.

Recruiting farmers: The Economic Division met with the Farmer Veteran Coalition (FVC) on April 24. FVC is a non-profit organization that helps veterans navigate the maze of federal and state benefits in pursuing agricultural endeavors. FVC has programs set up for beginner farmers to learn the trade mirroring that of on-the-job training, mentorship program, equipment share/donation program, and an adaptive farming equipment program set-up. We discussed the importance of getting younger veterans back into the emerging agriculture industry. FVC discussed the possibility of The American Legion collaborating in their programs. As many veterans at the local posts are farmers or have been at one point, FVC wants veteran farmers to instill in young veterans some of their institutional knowledge and perhaps share or donate some of their farming equipment as well.

Legislative staff on the Hill: The legislative office of The American Legion continues to meet with the leadership of the Veterans’ Affairs committees of the House and Senate. Last week, staff members met with ranking members Mike Michaud of Maine and Richard Burr of North Carolina.

Both meetings focused primarily on VA backlog issues, policy, or legislative suggestions to address issues. Burr expressed his frustration with the lack of progress to reduce the backlog percentage while recognizing that VA continues to process more records today than at any time in history. Burr also voiced his concern regarding VA property and facilities in his district that sit vacant because they are uninhabitable, or abandoned. He discussed the Major Construction portion of the VA budget and believes that the recent GAO decision, as highlighted in Legion testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives two week ago, is unreasonable and needs to be addressed directly by the White House.

Michaud also expressed frustration with the backlog and asked what the Legion thought about asking VA to start considering "partial payments" as claims started getting adjudicated. As an example, if a veteran had 10 medical issues in his claim, rather than wait until all 10 issues are settled, start paying immediately on issues that are quickly approved, and add future percentages as others receive approval.

Letters of support: The American Legion on April 24 sent a letter of support to Reps. Mike McCaul of Texas and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi – the chairman and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, respectively – giving the Legion’s support for H.R. 1344, the Helping Heroes Fly Act. This legislation would ensure that the nation’s wounded warriors and veterans are consistently screened by personnel of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in a manner befitting their service and sacrifice. The measure sets out a number of improvements to current practices, including requiring TSA to: provide privacy for the screened individual, consult with advocacy groups, provide its personnel with training for expedited screening protocols, maintain an operations center that wounded warriors and veterans can contact for assistance prior to their flights, and, report to Congress on its progress implementing the screening process. Related resolution

Navy’s budget constraints: Last week staff attended a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Navy in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal 2014. The panel included Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and CNO of the Navy Adm. Greenert. Senators expressed particular concern about the Navy’s ability to carry out its mission considering current budget constraints, including sequestration cuts. Link to webcast

Foreign Relations matters: Last week, staff attended a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations regarding strategies for enhancing our alliances and partnerships in the Asia Pacific.

For two centuries the United States has pursued policies that kept Asia and the Pacific open to our trade and our values and that prevented a rival hegemon from closing the region off to us. Today Asia is returning to the center of global affairs, and Americans know it. Sixty percent of our exports go to the region now, and polls show that for the first time Americans consider Asia to be the most important part of the world to our national interests. Link to webcast.

Healthcare: On April 23, the Department of Veterans affairs announced the launching of a new hotline for women veterans to inquire about VA health care and benefits. The hotline(1-855-829-6636) was established to receive and respond to questions from veterans, families and caregivers about many of the VA services and resources VA has available to women veterans.

Claims: During the week ending April 19, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 138 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 77.5 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 36 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 71 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims which mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 26 (18.8 percent) were outright denials.

POW/MIA Update: Master Sgt. Robert A. Stein, U.S. Army, 31st Regimental Combat Team, was lost on Dec. 2, 1950, in North Korea along the Chosin Reservoir near Sinhung-ri, South Hamgyong Province. He was accounted for April 22, 2013.