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Snyder signs legislation at summit aimed at turning around Michigan’s poor veteran employment record

From MLive

By David Muller

November 13, 2013

TAYLOR, MI – Julia Treme was trained by the Army National Guard to crawl through dark rooms under simulated gunfire with only a red flashlight.

The Grand Valley State University nursing school graduate, who the U.S. military readied to scramble for wounded soldiers in combat situations, was at Masco’s Headquarters Wednesday for the Governor’s Summit on Veterans Talent. The event, co-sponsored by the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA), was aimed at connecting Michigan employers with veterans and ultimately to be another step in turning around the state’s relatively poor veteran employment track record as of late.

“So after an experience like that,” Treme said of her training, “there’s nothing in a hospital environment that could really intimidate me.”

Treme was joined by Travis Nack, a University of Michigan engineering graduate and helicopter mechanic who quickly rose to the rank of sergeant in his five-year tour of duty at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, Penn., and by Tim Saucer, who graduated Cum Laude in physics and astro-physics from U of M before being deployed to the Pacific Ocean days later.

“Not to generate any stress or pressure,” Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday, ”But if these folks can’t find jobs, we’ve got a serious problem here.”

The governor made the statement somewhat in jest, but also as he and state legislators sought to turn around the state’s struggling delivery of benefits and employment to its veterans of wars.

After speaking at the summit, Snyder signed legislation that will allow military medical specialists to use their experience in lieu of additional education after leaving the military.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for veterans was at 6.9 percent in October, though for recent veterans, or those who have served since Sept. 11, 2001, the unemployment rate stands at 10 percent.

Michigan has historically had a higher unemployment rate for veterans compared to other states. It ranked 37th in the country for veteran unemployment in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor. Michigan’s total unemployment rate was 9.0 percent in August.

Michelle Salvatore, the director of recruiting at Quicken Loans, said during a panel on Wednesday morning that some employers struggle to see how military training can translate to the civilian workforce.

“One of the big challenges that we had, is when you’re looking at a resume of someone who has served, how do you translate what they did in the military to our world?” Salvatore said. For its part, Quicken Loans hired a recruiter with 20 years of military experience specifically to hire veterans.

Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas said that on Monday the school announced it will offer in-state tuition to all veterans, regardless of what states they come from. GVSU now represents 47 states and 82 countries.

Education has proven an important aspect on whether veterans find employment later, said Lisa Barager Katz, executive director of Workforce Intelligence Network. “Veterans who do have that higher education experience, regardless of their age, their gender, if they have a higher degree, they’re more likely to be employed,” she said.

Snyder repeated Monday that he felt the state’s model on serving veterans was too disjointed and failing to deliver benefits many former military personnel need. The governor announced during his January 2013 State of the State address that he was creating the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency to streamline services to the state’s veterans.

The agency opened its doors on March 20, 2013, the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. That was no more than two years after the United States also began a NATO-led war in Afghanistan.

The two wars have left 6,776 American soldiers dead. According to a 2013 report by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, one out of every two veteran s returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have applied for permanent disability benefits. One third of returning veterans are diagnosed with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The wars are expected to cost taxpayers between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, or about 20 percent of the amount added to the national debt between 2001 and 2012.