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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Business Steps Up — Hiring Our Heroes
U.S. Chamber Foundation Event
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Washington, DC
November 12, 2009

Thank you, Tom (Donahue).

And thank you to the U.S. Chamber Foundation for organizing today's important event.

November marks a special time of year — a time when we honor our Veterans — those brave men and women who have served our Nation and have made so many sacrifices. We owe them the very best programs, services and opportunities we can provide. This is one of the reasons why I appreciate the leadership of the Chamber on this issue.

As the world's largest business federation, you have a unique opportunity to help Veterans gain meaningful employment and careers. I'm looking forward to collaborating with the Chamber and the many organizations represented here to help our nation's Veterans obtain good jobs!

I also look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Shinseki and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and to coming up with new ideas to help our Vets. As Secretary Shinseki said recently, "We're just getting started."

As Secretary of Labor, my vision is Good Jobs for Everyone — and today I'd like to talk about Good Jobs for Vets!

Before I begin to tell you about the work we are doing, I'd just like to take a moment to say I am very fortunate to be working with two outstanding assistant secretaries. They have demonstrated their commitment to improving employment outcomes for our Veteran population, and they are dedicated public servants — Kathy Martinez and Ray Jefferson.

Kathy Martinez is DOL's Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy where she leads a comprehensive and coordinated national policy regarding the employment of people with disabilities — including wounded warriors.

Blind since birth, Kathy comes to ODEP with a background as an internationally recognized disability rights leader with deep expertise in employment, asset building, independent living and international development. She was appointed by President Bush as one of 15 members of the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency advising the President and Congress on disability policy.

Kathy — could you please stand up? Join me in giving her a warm welcome.

Ray is the Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training at DOL. His agency is mandated to serve as our Nation's leading advocate for Veterans' employment. Ray's background is ideally suited to this role, and he understands the needs of employers and the private sector.

He is a West Point graduate who served with the Presidential Honor Guard, 3rd Ranger Battalion and 1st Special Forces Group. Ray lost his hand in the line of duty while trying to protect his teammates from a hand-grenade detonating prematurely. After recuperating, he earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, served as a White House Fellow and Special Assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Ray later served as the Deputy Secretary of Commerce for his home state of Hawaii. He has worked with the Chambers of Commerce in Hawaii, Singapore and Shanghai. Most recently, Ray was a management consultant with McKinsey.

Ray is spearheading an initiative to promote greater engagement with the private sector in our outreach strategy, and I know he will work to form lasting partnerships with members of the Chamber.

Ray — could you please stand to be recognized? Let's give him a round of applause.

I hope you'll take a moment to introduce yourselves to these two wonderful members of my team.

As you know, the unemployment rate among Vets is 8% — lower than the national average, but too high to be acceptable! So I'm happy to say that many employers, large and small — including many of you in the audience today — are stepping up to recruit, hire and retain Veteran employees.

America's businesses should view Vets as "employees of choice." Veterans are qualified, committed job candidates with transferable skills that are proven in real world situations. They grasp new concepts quickly and work well both independently and as part of a team — highly prized skills in today's workplace.

More than 160,000 Service men and women transition out of active duty every year, but many transitioning service members don't have a job waiting for them. These brave men and women are tremendously talented, and a valuable resource for employers, but businesses sometimes have a difficult time finding Veterans to fill available jobs.

That's why at the Department of Labor we are working urgently and proactively with our partners. Some of the steps we're taking include:

  • Developing an employer outreach program with particular emphasis on the private sector. This will involve working with this Chamber, the Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration, the Business Roundtables, Economic Development Boards and other business associations.
  • We are also identifying innovative and more effective ways to communicate to employers the value of hiring Veterans.
  • We are connecting employers with more than 2,100 local Veterans' employment representatives.
  • We are working through One-Stop Career Centers to link businesses with the Veteran job candidates.
  • And we are publishing dates and locations of nearly 75 Veteran-only job fairs hosted annually across the nation.

We know that many of today's service members face many challenges, including mental health conditions such as Traumatic Brain Injury — or TBI — and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — or PTSD. Recognizing this challenge, Kathy and Ray are partners in an important Labor Department program called America's Heroes at Work. This wonderful program educates employers on the simple steps they can take to help Veterans with TBI or PTSD excel on the job. It's worth noting that America's Heroes at Work is also an anti-stigma campaign that is working to dispel some of the myths related to people with TBI and PTSD.

We have gotten amazing feedback from employers on the success of this program! I know we have more work to do when it comes to supporting employers in their Veteran hiring efforts, but through these efforts, I know we are off to a good start.

In the mean time, we would like to hear your concerns so that we can better address them. We have an open-door policy at the DOL, so please contact us or stop by and talk to someone about our programs. We want to support employers in the hiring and retention of Veteran employees.

All of you will be receiving an invitation to a follow-up event, here at the Chamber, that we are calling an "off the record" Business Roundtable on Veterans Employment. It will be your chance to tell us, candidly and confidentially, how we can do a better job supporting you, and supporting our warriors.

This event, and so many of our other efforts, are a part of DOL's commitment to our Veterans, their families and our business community, and it's a commitment that is shared by President Barack Obama and his Cabinet.

Just this past Monday, President Obama signed an Executive Order that created an interagency Council on Veterans Employment that will advise him and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management on the veterans' employment initiative. This program is designed to transform the federal government into the model employer of America's veterans, establishing a Veterans Employment Program office within most federal agencies. When it comes to employing veterans, it is this Administration's belief that we must and should lead by example.

We will continue this conversation with our stakeholders at a press conference later this afternoon at the Department of Labor, to discuss the specifics of the Council of Veterans Employment.

In closing, I would like to say that we can only succeed in this important and noble undertaking if we all work together.

Thank you for all the work you do on behalf of our Service men and women, and for your feedback around the important issues we'll be discussing this morning.

May God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.