Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Annual Conference
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
It is truly a pleasure for me to be here.
And thank you, Cheryl, for that warm introduction.
Ms. Beversdorf and her staff are to be commended for their tireless efforts and dogged determination to end homelessness among our veterans, and I think they deserve a round of applause.
I also want to thank the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans for their leadership.
And I want to acknowledge Ron Drach of the Department of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service who is a current board member.
I would like to take a moment to thank you in the audience this morning your dedication and selfless service to helping the homeless veteran inspires us all. You truly are helping those who need the most help.
To all the families and veterans and service members here and around our country... Thank you for your courage, character, strength and the enduring power of your example.
As a new generation of veterans returns home, we are reminded of the tremendous sacrifices made by our servicemen and women, and by their families. And we are reminded once again that no one pays a higher price for our freedom than our veterans. Not only do they pay a price on the battlefields, but here at home as well.
A large number of veterans have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or have addictions acquired during or worsened by their military service. One-third of returning service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health condition or report experiencing traumatic brain injury. Countless others return with other disabilities and long-term injuries.
Their family, social, and professional networks have been broken due to extensive mobility while in military service or lengthy periods away from home. More often than not, these problems are directly related to their military service or to their return to civilian society without proper transitional support.
And as everyone in this room knows, veterans are at a greater risk of becoming homeless. It is estimated that a staggering 23% of the homeless population are veterans.
More often than not, veterans find themselves overqualified for jobs and their unique military skills are not needed in the civilian sector. They have minimal income due to unemployment, and a there is a shortage of safe, affordable housing.
At least 45% of these homeless veterans suffer from mental illness. Many are dually-diagnosed, which presents unique challenges for existing service-delivery systems.
The VA estimates 300,000 veterans will experience homelessness at some during the year. The VA's Homeless Veterans program serves about one-third of this population.
Last month, the jobless rate for veterans who served since 9/11 was 10.3%. That's significantly higher than the national unemployment rate of 8.9%. I have seen first-hand the challenge our servicemen and women face in reintegrating into the workforce.
On the battlefields of war, our soldiers pledge to leave no one behind. We must pledge to leave no veteran behind!
We need to work to ensure that our sons and daughters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and all others who have served, are provided with the needed assistance they deserve and the job training and re-employment assistance they need.
Not to long ago, I met with Sergeant Ramon Padilla who joined the Army in 2000. He was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and Afghanistan in 2007. During an attack on a remote fire base, he lost his left arm below the elbow, and received wounds to the right side of his head that broke off a piece of his skull and caused a traumatic brain injury. As he continues to recover from his wounds, he told me that he wants to continue to serve his country by teaching and mentoring wounded soldiers in sports recreation.
His story serves as an inspiration to me and the work that we at the Department of Labor are ready to begin on behalf of our veterans.
I am committed to helping our veterans.
My 2010 budget for the Department of Labor calls for $35.3 million for our Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program, which is a 34% increase over last year's budget. That includes an additional $5 million to support 20 grantees, which will serve an additional 5,500 veterans.
We have requested to use $4 million to fund the Incarcerated Veterans Reintegration Program and will serve approximately 1,100 veterans through 12 grants. We will conduct a demonstration program as part of this Reintegration Program on homeless women veterans, especially those who suffered sexual trauma in the military.
I want to give veterans the tools they require to find and keep good jobs, and to work with organizations. These are organizations like Swords to Plowshares, which help to restore dignity, hope, and self-sufficiency to all veterans in need.
I want to salute Mr. Michael Blecker and applaud the work he is doing with the Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco. In March, I met with Mr. Blecker, was given a tour of this organization and was briefed on the wonderful work they are doing.
Organizations such as his are vital to the work we want to do at the Department of Labor.
I believe that now more than ever, we must help workers by prioritizing job training and assistance. I am interested in working with Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and his staff to recognize the Department of Labor as an important resource for employment services for veterans and transitioning service members. We will continue to work closely with the VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service on training opportunities for disabled veterans pursuing a program of rehabilitation.
President Obama's budget also proposes $26 million for the VA Veterans Homelessness Prevention Pilot. Labor will work in partnership with the VA and HUD to provide employment support for this pilot.
Through these and other efforts, we can help strengthen American's greatest assets its human resources.
Our families, our communities and our veterans deserve our commitment.
This is a commitment that is shared by President Obama and his Cabinet. It is a commitment I will work hard to fulfill.
Thank you for all the work you do on behalf of our service men and women.
May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.
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