Still Serving Veterans Helping Put Ex-Military To Work
September 7, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--More than 1 million veterans are unemployed.
Men and women that once dutifully donned the uniform of the American Soldier and went into battle for the love of their country are now left without a mission. Of the post-9/11 veterans, nearly 11.5 percent were unemployed in 2010, with more than 20 percent of veterans age 18 to 24 left jobless, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Still Serving Veterans, a Huntsville-based service organization devoted to empowering wounded warriors and veterans, and helping them transition into post-military life, is working to change those statistics, one job offer at a time.
"They have a spirit of loyalty and commitment," said Will Webb, president of Still Serving Veterans, drawing from the words of retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones. "They have a spirit of teamwork with the shared goal of mission accomplished. They have solid integrity, dependability, respect for others, and judgment, often in life and death situations with millions of dollars on the line. Hiring veterans is not just the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do. They are our national assets."
In 2010, Still Serving Veterans helped 71 veterans find meaningful careers, securing almost $3.5 million in new annual salaries, with an average salary of $50,214. The organization is on pace to exceed that number in 2011, with 56 veterans placed in new careers with an average salary of $51,000, and 146 new work force transition cases opened this year. Despite the lagging economy, the Tennessee Valley, through the help of local economic drivers Redstone Arsenal and other federal agencies located on post, as well as the 300 aerospace and defense companies throughout the community, has reached out to give the community's wounded warriors and veterans a new mission in life.
"This community wraps their arms around those heroes and lifts them to new paths," Webb said.
President Obama has challenged both the federal government and the private sector to hire more veterans, directing the Department of Defense and VA to create a "reverse boot camp" which would help new veterans transition themselves and their military skills into civilian jobs. He announced plans for a proposed Returning Heroes Tax Credit and Wounded Warrior Tax Credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans, and veterans with a disability, last week at the 93rd annual conference of the American Legion in Minneapolis.
"When Congress returns from recess, this needs to be at the top of their agenda," Obama said. "For the sake of our veterans, for the sake of our economy, we need these veterans working and contributing and creating the new jobs and industries that will keep America competitive in the 21st century.
"These are the obligations we have to each other -- our forces, our veterans, our citizens. These are the responsibilities we must fulfill. Not just when it's easy, not just when we're flush with cash, not just when it's convenient, but always."
The Army Materiel Command and Naval Sea Systems Command joined forces in July to work together to provide career opportunities for wounded warriors and veterans, giving Army Soldiers access to Naval Seas Systems Command positions, and sailors access to AMC positions. That commitment on behalf of AMC and NAVSEA has given Still Serving Veterans the ability to place veterans in careers in virtually all 50 states and more than 100 countries across the world, Webb said.
"Both of our commands offer outstanding employment opportunities," AMC commander Gen. Ann Dunwoody said during the agreement signing ceremony in July. "This agreement will ensure those opportunities are open to those who have served so greatly and sacrificed so much. They bring with them a tremendous amount of strength, talent and experience."
"To have a four-star headquartered here is tremendous and to have the support of the commanding general is tremendous for veterans," Webb said. "The chain of command is serious about giving opportunities to veterans. We're having success -- it's starting to show progress."
Through the Veterans Employment Transition Initiative, Still Serving Veterans has partnered with Redstone's Civilian Personnel Advisory Center to assist veterans in the job application process. Still Serving Veterans is the only Huntsville conduit with open lines of communication to CPAC, according to Webb. The desired outcomes of VETI include an increase in veterans in the federal work force, optimizing veterans' market competitiveness through job tools and education aligned with their aspirations, and breaking down barriers within the federal government hiring process, in line with President Obama's vision for an increase in veteran employment. For veterans seeking to continue their service to their country, it's the perfect career fit.
"It's really a win-win situation," Webb said. "The veterans would like to continue serving and would like the security of a government job. The government work force is enhanced by the skills they bring to the table."
Since its founding in 2005, Still Serving Veterans has helped more than 4,500 veterans reintegrate into civilian life, through counseling, career development, referrals to federal, state and local support services, and assisting veterans in obtaining Veterans Affairs and other benefits and services. The organization has been endorsed by two secretaries of the Army and the deputy undersecretary of defense and awarded the Spirit of Hope Award for "significantly enhancing the quality of life of servicemembers and their families." In addition to its many accolades, SSV has also been selected as a partner and pilot by the national Community Blueprint for Veterans, which aims to help communities create a blueprint that will better help them support veterans and their families by connecting resources available to them both locally and throughout the country.
"Our mission has become empowering veterans," Webb said. "We have taken on the role of advocacy -- we are trying to educate the public and enhance the cause of the wounded warrior."
To match its ever-growing operations and to better meet the needs of its veterans, the organization will reopen at a new location, 224 Spragins St. SW, in downtown Huntsville Sept. 12. For more information, visit www.stillservingveterans.org.