Combat Veteran Presents His Vision for Leading VETS

Sergeant Keith Kelly in Vietnam

During the Vietnam War, I served with the 101st Airborne Division as the sergeant in charge of an infantry squad and later a platoon. We operated in the field with daily reconnaissance sweeps and nightly ambushes. We conducted combat assaults in the jungle and on fire-support bases. It was through these activities that I honed my leadership abilities and earned my Combat Infantryman Badge and Bronze Star.

When I returned home from my service with the Army, my family and I − like most military families − faced the challenge of my transition from a military combat life to my role as father, husband and part of the American workforce. This period was the most difficult time in my young marriage, for our family and for my professional career. At that time, there was very little support or assistance for transitioning service members or their families. We had to navigate challenges largely by ourselves, which made the transition unnecessarily difficult. 

Keith Kelly is sworn in as assistant secretary of labor by the department's Shelita Aldrich

Today, thanks to the dedication of the people at the Labor Department and many others throughout the federal government and in Congress, significantly more resources are available to support service members with this transition. However, we can and must do more. President Obama and the Labor Department are committed to serving our service members and their families as well as they’ve served us by providing them with the support they need and deserve to find and secure meaningful careers in the civilian workforce.

As the new assistant secretary for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, I pledge to do my best to ensure that the 1.5 million service members expected to transition out of the military over the next five years are not alone.

My vision for VETS includes the following goals:

  • Improve outreach to service members and veterans (and also stakeholders) to ensure they are aware of and have access to the programs and services available to help them achieve their employment and career goals.
  • Sustain and bolster intensive employment services for those with significant barriers to employment, including veterans who have disabilities, are on public assistance, lack necessary education or are homeless.
  • Fully implement and continuously improve the department’s redesigned Transition Assistance Program; and work with our partner agencies such as the departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Homeland Security and others to make TAP a part of comprehensive efforts to seamlessly transition service members, National Guard and Reserve members and their families from active duty to civilian life.
  • Increase and enhance the ability of VETS to measure and report on the impact of our programs by improving data collection and reporting.

The men and women who serve this country need and deserve our support as they transition to the civilian workforce. I know what it’s like to be in their shoes, and together with the VETS staff, I’ll be working every day to help them find and secure meaningful careers.

Veterans Employment and Training Service employees

Assistant Secretary Kelly with the staff of VETS during his first day in office

Keith Kelly is the assistant secretary of labor for veterans’ employment and training.

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Comments (3)

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  1. William Adamek says:

    If you really want to make a difference, here is one idea that would give us LVERS and DVOPS additional firepower in each of our states:

    Establish a federal contractor requirement (example: each federal contractor must have in employment, veterans in a percentage quantity equal to or excending the local population percentage)for the hiring of our military veterans. Further, push that same requirement to any entities that are in reciept of federal grants and the contracts from those monies. Current federal contractor requirements are minimal, not universally enforced, and do very little if anything to enhance the hiring of our veterans. In example, in conversation with construction sub-contractors many dont even realize that they are a federal sub-contractor and/or that they have the same requirements as the contractor. Futher, many federal contractors hire strictly from the unions and state that they can only take who the union sends them. This is further aggravated by the union idea that they have to use the senority list and it doesnt matter whether the contract is federal or where any veterans may be on that list.

    Add to this that your veteran employment reps in each state, dont have access to a federal list/database of who are current federal contractors.

    Providing this additional support, even strengthing or at least enforcing (it is understood that OFCCP is the driver for enforcement) current federal contractor requirements, could make a huge difference to your veteran staff located on the front line and putting our veterans to work.

  2. Dr. CJ Jeffery says:

    Congratulations Keith Kelly on Promotion after well deserved recognition, survival of the Vietnam War and tenure in federal workforce. This is astonshing in cite of the 40 years history of the Vietnam era and currently national publicity of the program and benefit revisions for current regime. Nevertheless, I raise attention to service gaps for current population as Gulf War Veterans. I competed in the federal workforce to resolve systemic problems for over 8 years until 2010.

    Inevitably, I became statistic of the People with disabilities due to traumatic events on Active Duty. Really, the systemic problems will not decrease with fast methods or technology unless the human flaws are addressed also. Specialized training is a necessity but not the only answer to systemic problems.

    Kevin, you recommended needed changes and improvements of the programs and disseminations of the pertinent information. The TAP revisions are not all good but it does not address bad attitudes of the employees and service providers. But it is a start for current population and People with disabilities.

    Now I am recipient of the benefit provisions at state program (North Carolina Department of Vocational Rehabilitation) and Social Security Administration (Ticket to Work). In 2003, I completed Chapter 31 (Vocational Rehabilitation) with Department of Veteran Affairs as military veterans. I also completed degrees so that I worked at different levels of the federal workforce until April 7, 2010.

    Finally, I have SF50 for reentry to federal positions. The expiration date is April 7, 2013 as though April 2014 for Veteran Retraining Assistance Program. But I battled reentry after 3 years of the disability retirement. I contacted CPAC at Fort Bragg and OPM in Washington D.C. What is your suggestion?

  3. Brent Newren says:

    I would like to learn and hear more about better strategies to get veterans to connect to employment services. I think we need more participation from Commanders and Senior NCO’s in assessing the employment status of their soldiers and connecting them to employment resources that are available to them.

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