(Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

VETS chief pledges fight against joblessness

Assistant Secretary of Labor Keith Kelly began his 33rd day in office promising Legionnaires unwavering  support of job-seeking veterans. Kelly, a Vietnam War combat veteran, is the newly appointed head of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS).

Kelly began his remarks to a Legion Washington Conference Commander’s Call audience on Feb, 26 by recounting his experience returning from a tour of duty in Vietnam four decades ago. It was journey delayed by a transit strike and a series of frustrating impediments. “No, I wasn’t spit on or called a baby killer,” he said, “but when I did finally arrive I was looking for a brass band that wasn‘t there.”

Noting “it was a different time then,” Kelly contrasted his cold, lonesome homecoming with the reception given today’s troops, who are often met at airports by hand-shaking, back-patting volunteers “thanking them for their service."  

“It’s good that we have changed,” said Kelly, “but we must keep in mind that while a welcome home is important, giving our veterans a  good future with a good job is even more important.”

Kelly then noted current unemployment figures, emphasizing the particularly bleak jobless numbers among young veterans and the increasing number of women veterans while billboarding what VETS is doing to assist job-seeking veterans and their families.

“It’s the three Ps,” he said, “which stand for ‘Prepare’, ‘Provide’ and ‘Protect.’” As VETS promotional materials explain and Kelly paraphrased, “We prepare our servicemembers and their spouses to transition from the military to the civilian workforce. We provide our veterans with the critical resources, expertise and training to assist them in locating and obtaining meaningful careers. We protect the employment rights of the men and women that serve our nation.”    

Kelly detailed how the Department of Labor (DoL) Employment Workshops work as a component of the military’s mandatory Transition Assistance Program to help soon-to-be-discharged servicemembers gain-job search, résumé-writing and job-interviewing skills. The new assistant secretary of Labor told of DoL’s funding of more than 2,500 American Job Centers and their enhanced employment-assistance programs targeted toward veterans. Kelly also promoted relatively recent legislation directing federal employers to give veterans preference when hiring and the job protections afforded National Guard members and reservists under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act.

Kelly also paid tribute to the efforts of The American Legion with regard to the civilian licensing and credentialing of appropriately trained and experienced veterans. VETS has been a long-term collaborator in an ongoing series of Legion-sponsored licensing and credentialing summits, workshops and discussions.