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More than 500 tentative job offers went out to veterans who attended the Veterans Affairs Department-sponsored job fair in January, but implementing government initiatives that put veterans back to work remains challenging.

Speaking this week during a panel sponsored by FedInsider.com, Mary M. Santiago, director of veterans employment services at VA, declared the department’s Jan. 18 job fair a success: In addition to the tentative offers, nine of the 4,100 veterans who attended were offered jobs on the spot, 30 homeless veterans received assistance and two of them were hired, she said.

The department is planning a similar event in Detroit in June. Outside Washington, matching employers with veterans is an even bigger challenge, but “we are taking a big, big ship and trying to make a U-turn,” Santiago said.

She highlighted ongoing efforts to better prepare veterans for public and private sector work, and keep them in those jobs.

For example, the Veterans Employment Services office is charged with upping the percentage of the department’s employees who are veterans from 32 percent to 40 percent. The office has developed modules to help human resources managers do better at recruiting and training veterans, and it has introduced coaching sessions for veterans aiming to get back into the workforce.

Santiago noted that vets often need help with removing military jargon from their resumes. “We are not trying to just get them a job, we want to make them competitive with everybody else,” she said.

Keeping veterans employed has been another major challenge. Of the 11,000 veterans VA hired in 2011, 8,000 are no longer there, Santiago reported. About 3,000 of those retired, while the others “left either for other opportunities or because they were put out, or because their spouse was in the military and they left with their spouse,” she said.

The department now has a retention tool that will track veterans for six months after they are hired. Another initiative provides newly hired veterans with mentors who also have military backgrounds.

“Coming into a civilian world is a challenge,” Santiago said. “We’ve got to help them.”

The Labor Department offered some help earlier this week by proposing a change in U.S. Code that would extend leave benefits afforded to families of active-duty service members to caregivers of veterans.

Transit Equity

Labor union leaders are urging the Senate Finance Committee to take up a bill that would make tax benefits for commuting via public transportation equal to those for driving.

Parity between the two modes of transportation ended Dec. 31, 2011, when Congress failed to extend the mass transit perks. Previously, the benefits were $230 a month for both public transportation and driving. Now, a maximum of $125 is available to mass transit commuters.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D.-N.Y., in May 2011 introduced a bill (S. 1034) that would have rectified the situation, but it stalled after being referred to the Finance Committee.

The leader of the National Treasury Employees Union submitted testimony to the panel earlier this week, urging members to “include in any package of tax extenders a provision to reinstate such parity.” The committee held a hearing on extenders and tax reform Tuesday.

“It makes no sense for the government to provide workers using environmentally helpful mass transit a lesser benefit than those driving and parking their personal vehicles,” NTEU President Colleen Kelley said.

Defense Budget Input

The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments is seeking input from current military service members on their pay and benefits preferences following last week’s preview of the Pentagon’s fiscal 2013 spending request, which would change military retiree benefits and active-duty pay.

“The results will help clarify the debate over spending priorities for our national defense,” CSBA said in a statement.

Military service members can access the survey at CSBAmilsurvey.org. Results are slated to be published this spring.

 
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