Hearing discusses how to help vets find employment

By Trey Gregory

Representatives from the Texas business and education communities said congress could do more to help veterans find employment.

Wednesday, Baylor hosted a field hearing for the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economist Opportunity to discuss the different educational and economic opportunities Texas provides for veterans and how they can do more.

Rep. Bill Flores , R-Texas, lead the meeting which included guest speakers from local businesses who were advocating for veteran employment benefits and representatives of Baylor, McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College, and Texas A&M to advocate for veteran’s educational benefits.

President Ken Starr introduced the speakers.
“Baylor loves veterans,” Starr said.

Last month, veteran unemployment in Texas was 5.5 percent while the national unemployment for veterans was 6.8 percent.

“Employment continues to be a problem for veterans across the country,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif.

To address veterans’ employment issues, Flores invited representatives from Mr. Rooter, Cognizant, Home Depot, Caterpillar and RideScout to discuss what programs their businesses are providing to veterans, and what the U.S. Government can do to help.

Mary Thompson, the first female President of Mr. Rooter LLC, said she encourages the subcommittee to help and encourage veterans to become small business owners through franchising.

“Franchising is a great American dream,” Thompson said. “Franchising needs leaders, veterans have that.”

Thompson is also the vice president of international relations for The Dwyer Group, a holding company of seven service-based franchise organizations. In 1991, the Dwyer group started the VetFran, an organization that aims to help veterans become franchise owners.

“VetFran was started in Waco,” Thompson said. “We had to offer veterans an opportunity at small business ownership.”

Thompson said congress should pass a bill that would help veterans own franchises by providing a tax credit on franchise fees.

Thompson ended by recalling a commercial where a group of people gave a standing ovation to veterans when they walked into a room. “Lets not just give an ovation, lets give a vocation,” Thompson said.

David Amsden, retired Army Officer and Vice President of Recruiting for Cognizant, said Cognizant is focused on helping veterans and their families assimilate to civilian life and help disabled veterans in the workplace. Cognizant wants to raise veteran hiring 30-40 percent between 2013 and 2014.

Amsden said there are challenges to helping veterans find jobs.

“Veterans are not used to marketing themselves and don’t know how their skills translate,” Amsden said. Amsden also said there are challenges finding veterans with the right skills for the right jobs or finding veterans interested in training for highly technical jobs.

Chris Burton, the Waco Home Depot store manager and a former enlisted Marine, highlighted the many programs Home Depot uses to help veterans and urged congress to help create a strong economy and strong housing market for veterans.

Burton said the Home Depot has provided about 5,000 veterans across the U.S. with civilian career workshops. These workshops are designed to help veterans transition to civilian life, search for jobs, prepare for interviews, and write resumes.

The Home Depot also provides a military skills translator on their website that helps veterans find jobs they may be qualified for based off their military training.

Burton said Home Depot made a commitment to the White House to increase veteran hiring by 10 percent, about 55,000 jobs. Burton also said the Home Depot is committed to renovating veteran’s homes and vet centers across the US.

John Vizner, the Facility Manager at Caterpillar and Navy Veteran, outlined the efforts of Caterpillar to help veterans find employment.

Vizner is the newly created military recruiting manager for Caterpillar. He said they are committed to hiring 100,000 veterans by 2020. Caterpillar also has a program that connects veteran apprentices with cooperate mentors.

“Veterans are an untapped hiring resource,” Vizner said. “Veterans make great employees.”

Joseph Kopser, CEO of Ridescout and retired Army officer, said the government could best serve veterans by giving them access to more capital.

Kopser said he suggests veterans be given a $1,000 grant per year of service to start a small business. Kopser said he believes it should be easier for veterans to access capital because they want to start a business instead of work in a cubicle.

“We created adrenaline junkies who don’t want to sit in cubicles,” Kopser said

Kopser said it would benefit the U.S. economy to give veterans these grants because they have unique skills and experience that will help them succeed.

Kopser said veterans make good employees because they are used to solving problems without resources and that, while post traumatic stress disorder is very real, many other veterans experience post traumatic growth.

“We make things happens because we work in teams, we solve problems, and after combat, we don’t sweat the little things,” Kopser said.

Dr. Janet Bagby, Baylor’s Veterans Educational and Transition Services coordinator, presented the subcommittee with the efforts of Baylor to help student veterans.

Bagby teaches a one-hour transition course intended to help veterans transition in their first semester at Baylor. Bagby also talked about the newly chartered veterans of Baylor association, spoke about free legal services provided to veterans by the Baylor Law School and invited everyone to attend Baylor’s Veterans Day Ceremony at 5 p.m. on Nov 11 outside the Bill Daniel Student Center.

Bagby said congress could help veterans by raising their annual book stipend and creating a way for students to get a higher housing allowance if they attend Baylor, but live in a more expensive area than Waco.

Kris Cervantes, a veterans specialists at McLennan Community College, said, “Veterans want to continue to serve their community.” Cervantes also said veterans aren’t willing to settle for any old job, they want a job with meaning.

McLennan Community College started the connect a vet program that helps veterans find good volunteer opportunities to serve their community and get good references.

Cervantes said about 20 percent of veterans said their unpaid services helped them find a job. However, the program is very new and she expects those numbers to increase.

Cervantes said she would like to see the full time requirement lifted from the G.I. Bill so that students who need to work full time and attend school part time could still use their benefits.

Rob Wolaver, the Executive Vice President of Texas State Technical College, said they graduated 134 veterans in 2013 and are hoping to increase those numbers in the future.

Wolaver said TSTC allows veterans to use skills learned in the service for college credit through their competency-based curriculum.

Wolaver said congress could help veterans if they allowed more flexibility for veterans to use their benefits for nontraditional education.

Retired Colonel Gerald L. Smith, Director of Veteran Resource & Support Center at Texas A&M University, said they have programs aimed at getting veterans from boots to business suits.

Smith said A&M has programs that collect security clearance information from student veterans so they can connect veterans with government jobs that require a clearance. A&M also started programs to help spouses of veterans with employment and development.

In closing, Takano asked the education panel if they thought veterans had a higher success rate than normal students and the panel all agreed that veterans tend to succeed at higher rates than normal students, which justifies extra funding for these programs.

More information and a transcript of the hearing can be found at veterans.house.gov/witness-testimony