Legion Commission Focuses on Transitioning Troops

CINCINNATI--()--The American Legion’s Veterans Employment & Education Commission met Aug. 27 during the Legion’s 98th National Convention in Cincinnati to hone in on their theme of the day – transition.

Legionnaire William Offutt stressed the importance of preparing troops for civilian life and employment before they exit the military. The Vietnam veteran detailed the distinctive differences in resources available for servicemembers now, versus when he left the Army upon completion of his tour, citing additional tools including the G.I. Bill and service-wide transition assistance programs. “My transition consisted of a postcard and a DD-214,” he said.

Col. Adam Rocke, special assistant to the Army Soldier for Life Program’s chief of staff, echoed similar sentiments. “Right now veteran unemployment is at an eight-year low,” he said. “Do we really want to lose that momentum? The answer is no. We want to sustain that momentum.”

While Rocke addressed commission members, he detailed significant trends in veteran unemployment the Army is currently experiencing. In 2011, the Army spent $515 million on unemployment benefits. Since then, that amount has been on a downward trend to $240 million in 2015. Currently, the Army has estimated an additional $50 million in savings for 2016.

“What we are doing collectively helps national security. We are saving dollars – money we can put directly in commanders’ hands to improve readiness,” Rocke said. “The commitment (to hire veterans) is there. We need to change the culture of human resource managers so they understand how to hire veterans and develop strategies to do that.”

Partnerships with veteran service organizations and corporations are at an all-time high, Rocke added. These relationships play an integral part in ensuring servicemembers get the warm hand-offs they need to help them land employment. “This positive trend is increasing, and it is because of you,” said Rocke.

Brad Wenstrup, chairman of the House of Representatives Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, applauded the efforts of The American Legion in the licensing and credentialing arena, lauding their achievements as a pivotal movement that will get the ball rolling to help troops transfer their certifications into civilian credentials.

“The American Legion is leading the way in licensing and credentialing,” said Michael Michaud, assistant secretary of the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Services. “We have the best military in the world because we focus on training our military men and women. That training is key.”

Michaud unveiled DOL’s latest tool designed to help veterans and spouses connect with employers across the nation. “Veterans.gov is the match.com of employment resources,” he said. Michaud also highlighted the Legion’s commitment to veteran employment. “When you go to The American Legion’s Web page, it will direct you directly to the website.”

Michaud challenged commission members to continue to connect with their local disabled veterans’ outreach program specialists and American job centers. “The more we get this information out there the better we will be connecting veterans to available employment opportunities,” he said.

Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster, national consultant for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, also pointed how the integral part The American Legion plays in ensuring servicemembers and veterans are able to live the American dream. “The Legion continues to make things happen. They are out there talking to legislators and spreading the word regarding programs that are available to veterans,” she said.

Belcaster also detailed advantages of the Teamsters Military Assistance Program and the Utility Workers Union of America’s Utility Workers Military Assistance Program. Upon completion of the Teamsters program, graduates receive sponsored American Legion memberships.

“Together, we tackle veteran underemployment and put veterans in business models that work. The Teamsters and Legion have had a very beneficial relationship for over a decade,” Belcaster said.

During the commission meeting, leading industry experts in the federal and corporate employment sectors also conducted interactive discussion panels centered around hiring initiatives and best practices to ensure veterans, servicemembers and their spouses are finding gainful employment.

National Commander Dale Barnett addressed committee members, thanking them for their constant commitment and dedication to America’s heroes. Barnett emphasized how Legionnaires from all eras continue to shape the future for generations to come.

“When Harry Colmery wrote the G.I. Bill he created strong educational benefits,” Barnett said. “The American Legion also wrote a lot of the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act. As we continue to fight for enhanced G.I. Bill benefits, veteran employment opportunities and entrepreneurship opportunities, we are following up Colmery’s innovative ideas.”

The American Legion is the largest wartime veterans service organization with 2.2 million members in nearly 14,000 posts in communities across in America. The Legion, established by an act of Congress in 1919, was instrumental in getting the original GI Bill through Congress and the creation of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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The American Legion
Crystal Jackson, 202-263-5758


The American Legion
Crystal Jackson, 202-263-5758