Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) called for immediate passage of measures that would aid veterans through implementing education, training, job assistance and benefit programs. Veterans, local business leaders and government officials joined Lowey in New City on Tuesday and spoke about some of the local efforts under way.
Lowey said she supports the president’s Veterans Jobs Corps initiative, which would put 20,000 veterans to work rebuilding the country’s infrastructure including flood drainage projects, roads, trails and recreational facilities. The initiative is high on the list for when Congress reconvenes after Memorial Day. She spoke about $480 million in federal grants set aside for local police and fire departments to hire veterans.
Lowey noted the percentage of unemployed veterans is higher than the national unemployment rate. Last year, post-9/11 veterans had an unemployment rate of 12.1 percent. Director Jerry Donnellan said the number could be double that in the county and even higher for those veterans younger than 28 years old.
Lowey said action must be taken soon to help veterans.
“We must ensure they have access to education, job training and an easier transition to civilian life,” she said. “We have to do everything we can to get veterans who have served our nation the education to get good jobs.”
Lowey spoke about programs such as the Post 9-11 GI Bill and another measure to give veterans hiring priority when they apply to be first responders. She noted another resource is the online Jobs Bank, which lists one million openings.
All Bright Electric Chairman Howard Hellman said he had learned much about the military since his son recently joined the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan.
“It’s a world I’m so impressed with. I’m so in awe about how the soldiers are trained,” said the owner of the West Nyack company.
That knowledge led to an initiative with labor unions to hire veterans.
“Our company, the electrical union and other unions have put into place a program which is called ‘Helmets to Hardhats’ and we really strive to look for veterans to hire,” said Hellman. “And I can’t think of a better hire than a veteran.”
Three Marine Corps veterans enrolled at Rockland Community College (RCC) to prepare for civilian careers spoke about their experiences and how the college has assisted them.
Jennifer Vital of Nyack said she has graduated from RCC and is going back for a second degree.
“Post 9-11 (bill) has helped me in accomplishing my career, changing my career,” she said. “By going to RCC I learned about more benefits that were available.”
Jonathan Escobar of Haverstraw said he returned home in 2010, attended RCC for three semesters and is transferring to Stevens Institute of Technology to study mechanical engineering. Jerome Amato of Sloatsburg is an infantry combat veteran now studying to be an occupational therapist.
They all said the college’s Coordinator of Judicial and Veterans Affairs Jonathan Barnwell helped them as an academic counselor and also to get additional information about services and benefits and meet other veterans. Barnwell said RCC is considered a military friendly campus and on Sunday 23 veterans graduated from the two-year school.
Tom Morley of the NYS Small Business Development Center based at RCC said New York can expect about 15,000 veterans to return in 2012. He estimated about 12,000 of them would be living in the metro New York area, which includes Rockland. Morley said one of the center’s programs is designed to help veterans become entrepreneurs.
Another avenue to help veterans is working with them to translate their military skills to a civilian resume. Morley noted a lot of skills are returning with the veterans and there is “a heck of a resource out there.”
Other veterans talked about services and assistance their organizations provide. Ed Frank of the Vietnam Veterans of America said a scholarship program has been initiated at RCC. Angela Vasser Cooper, president of the Women’s Veterans Association of the Hudson Valley, is a social worker, who helps female veterans navigate the system and get the entitlement and benefits they are due.
“Going through the system can be very difficult,” she said. “The women are definitely behind in using the system.”