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Georgia DVOP/LVER Conference - Speech

Frederico Juarbe Jr.
DVOP/LVER Conference, GA
April 1, 2002

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

Georgia is a state known to honor its military personnel and its veterans.

Today more than 750 of its young men and women are engaged in the war on terrorism abroad or right here at home.

Georgians have always responded when our nation has faced trials by fire and called them to duty.

And you have always responded when they return home.

You have walked in their shoes, you know the value they bring to any organization.

I believe in veterans helping veterans and I proudly say so whenever I have the opportunity.

The New Environment

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

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.

Philosophy of New Initiative

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.

A Changed World

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.

Most of these men and women will eventually 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.

The Proposed Initiative

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 is 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.

The Role of Employers

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.

I also want veterans to be able to build their own businesses.

More veteran entrepreneurs means more employment opportunities for other veterans.

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.

Seamless Transition

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 includes shifting 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.

Window of Opportunity

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

I know many of you are anxious about what may happen to your jobs.

All I can tell you for sure is that very little is for sure as yet.

The House of Representatives recently introduced a bipartisan bill to amend Title 38.

The legislative process is just beginning.

Until the President signs legislation, if he signs any legislation at all, we will do business as we are doing it now – only we will do it better.

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 must look and operate differently.

No change is unacceptable. The status quo cannot be tolerated.

VETS Mission Now

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.

You are critical to the success of those programs and services.

Without you, there would be no VETS mission.

2002 Priorities

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

These priorities are designed to enable VETS to work in new and better ways.

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.

Need For Input

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

That’s why getting out to conferences like this one is so important.

I am quickly finding out that the world is different outside the Beltway.

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.