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