Policy

Congressmen Aim to Boost Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Workforce

Panelists discuss bill to overhaul federal programs helping veterans make the shift

Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, introduced a bill last month to reform the federal government’s Transition Assistance Program for returning veterans entering the workforce. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Congress can do more to help veterans manage the transition from military service to civilian work, panelists said Tuesday at a hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

The hearing brought together five business leaders who work with major companies to help integrate veterans into their workforce. All of them brought personal experience of their own — four had seen military service and one was a military spouse.

Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, the chairman of the committee, convened the hearing to inform his work on comprehensive reform to the Transition Assistance Program, a program designed to help veterans transition to civilian life.

Arrington solicited advice from the panelists on his legislation, which he introduced last April. He questioned witnesses alongside Ranking Member Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, joined at the hearing by his three children.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., the chairman of the full House Veterans Affairs’ Committee, also attended.

Veterans bring a particular array of strengths to the workplace, including leadership abilities and strong team-oriented values, the panelists said. But veterans also face a unique set of challenges.

Many veterans do not realize the skills they gained in combat are transferable to a business environment, said Charles Sevola, Jr., an Army veteran and current vice president of veterans initiatives at Prudential Financial.

“Many times they believe because you’re an infantrymen or an artilleryman, that those skills aren’t really transferable,” Sevola said. “It’s true that we don’t do a lot of that type of work at Prudential, but leadership skills and teamwork and things of that nature are absolutely essential.”

Meanwhile, others struggle to feel a sense of purpose in quotidian lifestyles after returning from the high-impact world of combat, said Brigadier General Gary Profit, the senior director for military programs at Walmart.

Helping veterans overcome challenges finding and keeping civilian jobs could help reduce the high rate of veteran suicides, Roe said. Stability in finances and relationships are two key goals for veterans struggling after returning from service.

Panelists particularly focused on the needs of military spouses, most of them women, whose careers often are disrupted by their loved ones’ military service.

Elizabeth O’Brien, senior director of military spouse programs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the wife of a veteran, said current government transition assistance programs largely fail to help spouses with job searches, which would further help stabilize military families transitioning to civilian life.

Roe, Arrington and O’Rourke also thanked the five panelists for their organizations’ support of veterans. Representatives from Starbucks and Walmart touted hiring of tens of thousands of veterans in recent years.

All the panelists said their organizations had launched successful programs to help veterans feel integrated and to educate other business leaders on the benefits of hiring former service members.

“We find that the notions of service, sacrifice and excellence is something that aligns very well with the culture of Walmart and the values we hold dear,” Profit said. “Those are exactly the Army values I lived for 31 years.“ 

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