By Rob McIlvaine
FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Army News Service, Feb. 29, 2012) -- Eager to work, wounded warriors of all services arrived at the Fort Belvoir Officers' Club to learn from the pros and meet with prospective employers, Feb. 28 and 29.
In conjunction with the workshops, representatives from the military and government signed the Wounded Warrior Employment Community Covenant, which commits federal agencies to hire wounded warriors and their family members, share resources and best practices, and hold their own events to help hire vets.
After a few days of workshops, most felt that this conference, which was the second in a series hosted by the Army Warrior Transition Command, the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, Navy Safe Harbor and the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program,gave them the benefits to actually find a job.
"I think today was amazing," said retired Staff Sgt. Steven Castillo who was injured on a mission in Iraq in December 2006.
"The workshops have been very helpful, especially how to write resumes, making them strong and bold so they stand out, kind of catering to the employer more, and highlighting things I didn't even know I was qualified to do," he said.
Castillo said the wounded warriors got the chance to conduct mock interviews with employers.
"They let us know what's best to focus on, how to articulate, how to fidget less, and get relaxed, but not too relaxed," he said.
He even said one employer sat down with him to rewrite his resume specifically for his company.
"I've been to a lot of job fairs, but this one is even better because it's directed toward the wounded warrior. I love the fact that there's people out there who want to help out the vets who are hurt. I'm excited and feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders (as I search for a job)," Castillo said.
VETS EMPLOYMENT INITIATIVE
Ray Decker, assistant director of Veterans Services at the Office of Personnel Management, explained how this drive to hire veterans began.
"Last year at this time, the Council on Veterans Employment was created which talks about how we can hire more veterans in the federal government. And that is what this storm is about today. It's about employment," Decker said.
The federal government, he said, is a small player in the grand scheme of employment across the country.
"General (Eric K.) Shinseki, secretary of Veterans Affairs -- co-chair of the Council on Veterans Employment, has a partner in Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solise. She is extremely interested in what happens after a service member leaves and goes back to (his or her) hometown," Decker said.
Labor is trying to do more to help transitioning service members and veterans get traction in federal employment.
"We just concluded the first full year of the Veterans Employment Initiative. And we used FY11 (fiscal year 2011) as the first measure of whether the initiative's moving forward or standing still, or moving backward," he said.
For fiscal year 2011, he said, 28.4 percent of all new hires in the government were veterans.
"That's about 4.5 percentage points above the baseline of what hiring was in 2009. That is significant when you consider that the federal government hired about 70,000 fewer people on top of it. So while the federal government was downsizing, the veteran hiring was going up. Now that says a lot about the agencies and what they did," he said.
The government knows that veterans have the skills, the experience, the ability, and the leadership qualities wanted by the federal government.
V2F PILOT PROGRAM
"So, 24 major federal agencies said 'we want contracting officers.' We went through a huge downsizing over the years but we have a critical need and we want to create this pilot, known as Vets to Feds, or V2F, to home grow contracting officers," he explained.
"Eight agencies came forward saying they had needs now. And they committed billets for this program. This is not just a job, it's a career tract," he said.
Once Soldiers complete all the requirements, Decker said they can go from a GS-5 to a GS-13 in a relatively short period of time.
"We have 65 individuals across the eight agencies and they are all over the country. But we're committed to kicking off two more pilots," he said.
The steering committee, he said, includes five seniors at the Department of Defense, VA, Labor, Homeland Security and OPM.
"We meet once a month to talk about those behind-the-scene actions that the council takes forward and approves," Decker said. "The interest was creating more V2Fs for the government, based upon our need. We're going to kick off two new initiatives, and I'm hoping, by April, we'll have the announcements out for Information Technology -- especially with cyber security, and more science, technology, engineering, and math professionals to run the programs we have."
Decker also said they finally kicked off the first Homeless Vet Program for all the veterans having trouble getting traction.
"And I'm not talking about the veterans you may see that are not in a program and they're not making headway with the day-to-day progress. We are talking about those veterans that have decided to take advantage of the assistance that the Department of Labor and the VA provide through their programs," Decker said.
RESOURCES FOR MILITARY SPOUSES
Lillie S. Cannon, program manager of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, known as MSEP, explained about growing opportunities for spouses.
"In 2002, the National Defense Authorization stated that the DOD should establish a corporate partnership with corporate America to enhance the employment of military spouses," Cannon said.
At the time, she said, the Army conducted a survey showing the reason the more qualified were leaving the military was because the spouses were not happy.
"The mission was to have a stand-alone partnership that would enable military spouses to realize their career objectives. So, in the Army we looked at federal agencies, non-profits -- we looked at corporate partnership that realized the value of hiring military spouses.
One of the partners who was around in June when MSEP was formed -- from the Army Spouse Employment Program -- said they hire military spouses for four reasons: they're very resilient, want to work and sacrifice, move around so much they develop a tool kit, and they aren't shy about sharing their life experiences so they can help the employer with some of the challenges.
"The Army had 72 partners last June. MSEP brought on 15 new partners and then in October we brought on an additional 24 partners, taking us up to over 95 partners. In May, we will bring on an additional 25, and in October we will bring on another 25 partners.
"To date, 95 corporations have hired 131,000 military spouses," Cannon said.
'HERO HEALTH HIRE'
Michele D. Deverich, executive director of Hero Health Hire, a health consortium developed by Magellan Health Services, told the military members about the hundreds of jobs across the country.
Magellan Health Services, in June 2011, realized that other health organizations would like to hire wounded warriors, so the company decided to pull together other health care companies who also were committed to hiring wounded warriors.
"We invited about 25 health care organizations to Washington, D.C., and sponsored a summit, co-chaired by Secretary Hilda Solis," Deverich said. "We had a number of other Washington dignitaries, some governors, representatives from all of the relevant agencies and that was the beginning of what we're now calling 'Hero Health Hire.'"
"Health care industry is one of the few that are slated to grow, I mean 3.2 million new jobs by 2018, I believe is what the Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting, so we have jobs, we know this is the right thing to do, but we also know from a parochial standpoint, these wounded warriors really exemplify the kind of qualities that we are looking for in good employees," Deverich said.
The majority of the jobs the consortium is hiring -- 800 jobs with just one of their companies -- are non-clinical.
"So there's administrative, operational, Information Technology, logistics, I mean it runs the gamut of opportunities," she said.
Retired Sgt. Elliot Green, whose last duty station was Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., is hoping to get a job in human resources.
"I'm really here to find a career, something that's lasting, some type of stable position for myself and my family one day," Green said.
He currently lives in Vicksburg, Miss., and he came up to Fort Belvoir, Va., to attend the wounded warrior conference.
"This conference really got in depth with the resume, more interactive contact with the employers," Green said. "This is the best so far. It's been a coalition of people who actually care."
WHITE HOUSE AND GRASS ROOTS EFFORTS
Lt. Col. Rodney Lewis is a White House fellow with the "Joining Forces Campaign" in the Office of the First Lady.
"We've teamed up with government, DOD, VA, Department of Labor, Commerce, across the board in Joining Forces Campaign and we've also teamed up with those for-profit and not-for-profit and we've created partnerships (to help veterans find jobs)," Lewis said.
"But one of the things that I'm really proud of, as the first lady has galvanized this group and brought everyone together -- we've really challenged the public to say 'how can you help, do what you do best, but think about those members that are serving -- could be your neighbor next door who's deployed. Maybe cut the grass for them, maybe bring them a meal, because we know that delivery happens at the local level, neighbor to neighbor.
SOLDIERS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OPPORTUNITIES
Retired Spc. Joshua Magura, an airborne engineer, survived Iraq but came home to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he was injured by another vehicle in December 2006. He is now a senior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.
"The Army Wounded Warrior program is really good at keeping in contact with Soldiers who separate from the military due to injury, always contacting them once a month, asking them how they're doing, is there anything we can help you with, what kind of challenges you're experiencing looking for jobs, getting medical treatment, and they informed everyone about this conference, meeting with speakers and attending the workshops."
"I learned a lot about initiatives, the enthusiasm of employers which I wasn't aware that there was a push for employers, federal agencies that are really trying to make veterans feel at home and hire them," Magura said. "It's scary for me to graduate, not having a job lined up."
"I know I'm qualified to do a lot, but I feel I have a lot to offer -- a lot of veterans do, every veteran whether they're injured or not. Anyone who has served in the military has a lot to bring to the table, a lot to offer," Magura continued.
To keep updated on the one-stop resource for federal veteran employment information, visit www.fedshirevets.gov.
To learn more about Military Spouse Employment Partnership, visit www.msepjobs.militaryonesource.mil.
For more information on Hero Health Hire, visit www.herohealthhire.com.