Today I was honored to preside over the department’s annual Salute to Veterans, my first since being confirmed as assistant secretary of labor for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. (Editor’s note: Watch the full program on YouTube.)
Secretary Thomas Perez regaled the audience with stories of military service and heroism about his father and uncles, all who voluntarily served in the Army before they were even naturalized citizens. Then, setting a more serious tone, he noted that the event is not just a celebration and salute to veterans for their sacrifice and service to the nation, but also a substantive conversation about how we can better connect returning service members with good job opportunities.
I echo the secretary’s sentiment. All of us have a part to play in the fight to decrease unemployment for veterans; to eliminate homelessness for veterans; to remove discrimination against veterans. Every one of us has an unbreakable bond to our nation’s veterans of every generation, for they took up the mantle of service to fight for our freedoms both at home and abroad.
One of the highlights of the salute was a panel discussion moderated by veteran and former Congressman Patrick Murphy about the transition process and the critical role that public-private partnerships can play in assisting veterans. Panelists included: Sgt. Dakota Meyer, recipient of the Medal of Honor; Eric Eversole, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Jose Serans, veteran and graduate of the Veterans In Piping apprenticeship, a high-quality skills training program in the pipe trades for service members and veterans run by the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States, Canada and Australia; and Terry Gerton, deputy assistant secretary of policy in my agency, the department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.
Sgt. Meyer’s tale of saving his comrades at the risk of his own life in Afghanistan was an amazing example of courage under fire. It is why, when Meyer was awarded his medal at the White House, President Obama said, “You did your duty, above and beyond, and you kept the faith with the highest traditions of the Marine Corps that you love.”
Later on I was able to give a sneak-peak of some upcoming public service announcements featuring veteran celebrities R. Lee Ermey and Montel Williams. The department intends to broadcast these announcements nationwide to remind service-members of the career assistance available to them at more than 2,600 American Job Centers and to remind employers of the essential skills that veterans possess and companies are seeking: leadership, problem-solving and teamwork. As the secretary said today, the best way to honor a veteran is to hire a veteran.
Keith Kelly is the assistant secretary of labor for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.