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Veterans' Employment & Training Service
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Great Lakes - Speech

Frederico Juarbe Jr.
Great Lakes
March 22, 2002

Good morning. I am pleased to come before an organization that is dedicated to serving a unique group of America’s veterans.

The Vietnam Veterans of America represent thousands of men and women who served their country in a war that tragically divided this nation.

Together, we have done much to heal those wounds.

The world has become a better place because of the sacrifices we made. We know that now.

The rich bounty our society now offers to so many of our citizens and to peoples around the globe is available, in large measure, because we went through our personal trials by fire.

Today, we face another trial by fire. It’s different from the one our generation faced.

But it demands the same kind of courage and dedication to duty that the men and women who served in Vietnam gave so heroically.

Just as we are now building coalitions to fight terrorism abroad, we need to build coalitions here at home to address the issues facing our 21st century veterans.

I want to talk about how this administration is putting together a coalition that will provide better employment and training services for veterans than they had when they came home from Vietnam.  

This is a subject that is especially close to me.   As some of you probably know, I served as national service director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars for 23 years and have dedicated most of my adult life to serving veterans.

Like you, I believe with all my heart that the men and women who have worn the uniform of America’s armed forces deserve the best programs and services that this nation can provide.

Like you, President Bush, Secretaries Chao and Principi, and I, will settle for nothing less.

We confront a world profoundly changed by events of September 11.

Americans are looking at the men and women of our Armed Forces with a renewed sense of respect and pride.

Someday, many of these men and women will exchange their uniforms for civilian attire.   Many of them will be looking to the government for training, job search and placement assistance to help them successfully transition into the civilian economy.

At the Department of Labor, veterans are among our most important constituencies.

Our nation's veterans deserve nothing less than access to quality services in both employment and training opportunities.  

This Administration understands and deeply appreciates their patriotism, their dedication, and the skills and experiences they bring to the civilian labor force.

That's why Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Principi are joining President Bush to take a fresh look at all government programs which affect veterans.

One of the ways we are looking to improve the quality and delivery of employment and training programs is proposed in the President' s fiscal year 2003 budget.  

It would transfer funding for the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program, the Local Veterans Employment Representatives, and the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Project grants from the Department of Labor to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This transfer as part of the President's overall strategy to better serve citizens by increasing the effectiveness and accountability of all government programs. It will reduce duplication of effort and strengthen these services to veterans by putting them all under the roof of an agency devoted to addressing the needs of veterans.

And not only veterans will be better served.  Employers will also know where to find veterans to fill good, career building jobs, which veterans are uniquely qualified to fill.

I intend for veterans employment and training programs to be demand driven; programs that recognize and meet the needs of the employer community.

That means reaching out to the employers; talking to them in their own language; providing them with qualified veterans who can begin adding value to an organization right away.

And when additional training is needed to make them job ready, we stand ready to work closely with the VA’s Vocational, Rehabilitation, and Education programs so that their transition to the world of work will be as seamless as we can make it.

We intend that the time it takes to transition these programs between agencies to be a seamless one, too.  No veterans will encounter a gap or a reduction in service while these changes take place.

The two agencies have been in continuous coordination on this initiative since last December with assistance from the Office of Management and Budget. OMB, VETS, and VA have working groups focusing on various administrative, financial, and legislative implications of the proposed transfer.

The transfer also includesshifting 199 VETS staff to the VA.

51 of VETS staff will remain at the Labor Department to carry out the employment and reemployment responsibilities required under USERRA, conduct veterans’ preference investigations, and monitor Federal contractor filings and job postings.

I know that we may not see eye-to-eye on all the details of the proposal.

I know there are other proposals out there.   You have probably seen more of them than I have.

What I do know is that we have a unique, but limited, window of opportunity to affect meaningful change.

We need to seize this opportunity and work together to make sure that whatever changes do occur, they focus on the primary mission of VETS – a mission on which all of us in this room agree.

That mission must be to provide the best programs and services to America’s veterans, programs and services they have earned by the sacrifices they made when they chose to wear the uniforms of our armed forces.

No matter how this, or any other, legislative proposal plays out in the coming months, VETS has an important mission to carry out this year, right now, for every veteran seeking employment and training services.

And we need to work with you to make sure that our efforts are successful.

It is my intention that every member of VETS refocus on our critical missions and redouble our efforts to serve America’s veterans. It is also my intention that we go forward, this year, with the full range of our programs and services.

Let me share with you some of my priorities for 2002, priorities that I have shared with every member of VETS staff.

VETS will become a better partner with the states by focusing on outreach and technical assistance.

In short, I intend to take the “coach approach.”

At the top of my “10 most wanted list” is developing and fostering a climate of trust and confidence between states and VETS field staff, particularly in terms of transparency, meaningful partnering, and prompt action in response to state concerns.

I intend that VETS extend its full cooperation with our state partners to resolve reporting issues and in implementing new state performance measures.

In particular, I desire to see a focused effort to negotiate more accurate and reasonable standards that take into account the new states’ reporting systems and environmental conditions.

In no way do I believe that one standard or measure or way of doing business fits the realities of every state.

We must become more sensitive to the particular needs of each state and the citizens it serves and work with you to ensure that our programs best meet the needs of your veterans.

I cannot emphasize to you too strongly that I firmly believe that the quality of the VETS/state relationship bears directly on the quality of programs and services that we can provide at the local level to our nation’s veterans.

These are approaches I have used throughout my professional life.   I truly believe it is a better way to work.

I also believe that the longer I stay in this job, the more I will understand how much I don’t know.

That’s where you come in.

I need to hear from you on all issues of mutual concern.  

It is through clear, candid, and continuous dialogue that we will improve our working relationships, develop better programs and services, and thereby better serve all America’s veterans.

It is a major challenge but one from which we must not retreat.

With your prayers and your active involvement, I know we will succeed.

Thank you. God bless you all and God bless America.