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

Remarks for the Honorable Hilda L. Solis
Salute to Veterans / DOL Great Hall
Washington, DC, Thursday,
November 3, 2011

Thank you, Junior, for that introduction, for your work leading our VETS division and for your service to our country. Thank you to our panelists here today for your service and for everyone present who has worn the uniform and risked so much to keep America safe. And thanks also to your family members, whose support has meant so much. We know your heroic sacrifices wouldn't be possible without their love and commitment.

It's my honor and privilege to welcome you to the Department of Labor's annual Salute to Veterans ceremony. We have a distinguished panel here today who've proudly served their country. They're devoting their time and talent to helping our veterans find good jobs, and they've generously agreed to join us today for a discussion about helping our vets transition back into civilian life.

Retired Colonel Lisa Firmin is a Bronze Star recipient who served her country with distinction for 30 years and became the highest-ranking Latina officer in the United States Air Force. She commanded a mission support group at Balad Air Base during Operation Iraqi Freedom. And now she serves as an Associate Provost at the University of Texas at San Antonio, overseeing diversity and recruitment. Thank you, Colonel Firmin, for your exceptional service.

We also have with us today Brigadier General Barrye Price. General Price has served this nation in posts across the world in Kuwait, Iraq and Germany; as a professor at West Point; and now as the Army's director of human resources at the Pentagon. General Price has served on presidential task forces in two different administrations and made history as the first African-American to obtain a doctorate in the history of Texas A&M University. Thank you, General Price, for your incredible leadership on behalf of this nation.

Finally, we're joined today by a highly decorated Army veteran, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, Paul Bucha. Paul served in the prestigious 101st Airborne Division during Vietnam. For his service as a company commander during the War, he received the Bronze Star and Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart and Medal of Honor. After leaving the service, Paul helped expand U.S. military operations across the Middle East and Europe. Then he went on to a successful career in business, forming his own international consulting and real estate development company that built Port Liberté on the New York Harbor. Paul now serves on our DOL Veterans Advisory Committee, where he lends his expertise to our VETS team on veterans employment issues.

This is one of the most special days on the calendar here at the Department of Labor. It's difficult to find the words to adequately convey our appreciation for what our service members and veterans mean to this country. We ask so much of our military personnel: to put their careers on hold, leave their loved ones behind and embark on dangerous missions across the world to protect our daily freedoms.

Here at DOL, we strive to honor their sacrifices every day. We do this by putting the full weight of this department behind programs that ensure rewarding careers are waiting for them when they come home. I can't think of a more sacred obligation our government has than helping our veterans and their families overcome unemployment and get the good jobs and benefits that they've earned. We have a duty to serve our military families as well as they've served us.

That's especially true with the recent announcements that our combat troops are coming home from Iraq and that we're winding down our presence in Afghanistan. They deserve a hero's welcome and a chance to utilize their unique skills to help re-grow our economy. Soon, we expect a vote on critical provision of the American Jobs Act that would provide fresh incentives for employers to hire unemployed veterans.

The Returning Heroes Tax Credit would provide tax relief of up to $5,600 for firms that hire veterans and up to $9,600 for employers that hire veterans with service-related disabilities. And I'll be blunt: Legislation that cuts taxes on business and provides job opportunities for veterans should be the most bipartisan no-brainer that Congress considers all session.

Last week, the President took executive action to expand opportunities for veterans with medical training. We're working with community health centers to put at least one medic in each center. That would put 8,000 veterans with medical expertise back to work. We're also helping medics get fast-tracked to get training to become physician assistants. They treat our wounded on the battlefield and they can do a lot of good here at home.

But that's just the beginning. Today, I would like to make some news. We're completely overhauling our TAP veterans employment workshop to help vets translate their military experience into full-time civilian employment. We're redoing our curriculum to help veterans better communicate their value to a company's hiring manager. It's the first redesign of our DOL/VETS employment workshop program in 19 years.

We will provide career readiness assessments and share best practices that are proven to translate military experience into civilian job qualifications. As President Obama has said, "If you can save a life in Afghanistan, you can save a life in an ambulance. If you can oversee millions of dollars of assets in Iraq, you can help a business balance its books here at home."

We know from experience that military skills are invaluable in the civilian workforce, but we need to do a better job of connecting those dots for employers. We've already tested the new curriculum at Andrews Air Force Base, at the Naval base at Norfolk, at the Marine base at Camp Lejune and at the Army base at Fort Bragg. We'll roll this program out in greater detail around Veterans Day next week.

In 2010, there were 11.8 million veterans in the American labor force, but over 40 percent of our unemployed veterans have been jobless for 27 weeks or longer. To help us understand the experiences of veterans in our economy and explore solutions to this problem today we are releasing a new report called “The Veteran Labor Force in the Recovery." It lays out the challenges we face in finding employment for our military heroes. The report is available at http://www.dol.gov/_sec/media/reports/veteranslaborforce/

One of the most interesting findings relates to our women veterans, who now represent more than eight percent of all vets. As more women have joined the services, we now see that 17 percent of our post-September 11th veterans are women. That number is up from just three percent of women after World War II, Korea and Vietnam. But today, nearly 15 percent of our women veterans from post-September 11th don't have jobs. We can and must do better.

The Department of Labor is committed to making sure these women have better access to jobs and job training. We've spent millions of dollars on programs to help these women transition back into the civilian workforce. Still, too many women who once proudly wore our uniform now go to sleep in our streets, under our bridges and in vacant homes.

So we've done something unique. To better understand the factors that lead to homelessness, we sat and we listened to homeless women veterans and service providers. We took the voices of these women, and we turned them into an action guide for service providers to help them in a more efficient and compassionate way. Research suggests that the majority of female veterans have been exposed to some type of trauma. Over the last decade, the number of homeless women veterans has nearly doubled, and the risk for the women coming from Iraq and Afghanistan is particularly great.

This is a relatively new issue for many service providers. Traditionally, the help our veterans receive is offered through the lens of the male veteran. While women veterans face the same issues as their male counterparts — PTSD, sleeplessness, and battle injuries — they also face unique challenges like domestic violence and sexual trauma, which increase their risk of becoming homeless. That's why the release of our trauma guide is so important.

It's about more than raising awareness and providing information; it's about changing a culture. It gives service providers research, self-assessment tools and trauma-informed practices that they can use to tailor their treatments to the unique needs of women veterans. Women in our military master some of the most advanced technologies, run some of the most complex operations and have experience managing hundreds of their colleagues. In these challenging times, we can't afford to lose out on that kind of talent.

We need to hone those skills and put them to good use right here in America. These women deserve to live their lives with dignity, support their families and never find themselves without a home because of all that they've gone through. No woman who served her country should come home to homelessness. That's why we feel our trauma guide is a major step toward providing these brave women with the resources they deserve. So with that I will wrap up my remarks. Again, I want to thank our panelists for being here today.