HHS joins White House initiative to put veterans to work

The Health and Human Services Department is getting involved in the Obama administration's efforts to hire more veterans, officials announced Tuesday.

HHS, in coordination with the White House veterans task force, unveiled new initiatives, including an order to its network of 8,000 community health centers to hire 8,000 veterans during the next three years. A separate initiative gives veterans priority in physician assistant training programs.

To help with veteran hiring, community health centers will use roughly $2.58 billion provided them through the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Tom Van Coverden, president of the National Association of Community Health Centers, expressed support for the hiring initiative. "Our national organization has embraced it fully and is ready to accept that challenge," he said.

The initiatives follow a recent push to engage the help of the private sector in creating jobs for veterans, rather than going through the legislative process.

President Obama in August proposed the Returning Heroes tax credit of $5,600 for private firms that hire veterans, and the Wounded Warriors tax credit of $9,600 for hiring veterans with combat-related injuries. Both are part of the American Jobs Act legislation that Congress has yet to pass.

The second initiative announced Tuesday would give priority grants to physician assistant programs that focus on training veterans and build on previous military medical experience, when possible.

Physician assistant programs require some previous health care experience, which is why the administration is focusing on veterans with battlefield medic experience. The field is expected to be high growth. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the sector should increase by more than 29,000 between 2008 and 2018.

Ensuring veterans know about these opportunities will be a challenge for the White House and HHS, officials said.

"All of us at HHS, Labor and [Veterans Affairs] are making sure we connect vets to community health center openings as soon as they're available," said Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Matt Flavin, director of the White House Veterans, Military Families and Wounded Warrior Task Force said the administration plans to include the Defense Department in creating outreach solutions for veterans before they leave active-duty service.

The administration also hopes the physician assistant training programs will introduce effective outreach ideas to recruit veterans said Flavin, who stressed this is one small part of a comprehensive initiative and more solutions will be announced by Veterans Day.

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