Susan Walsh/AP

White House announces veterans hiring initiatives

New jobs at Interior could become permanent as 40 percent of the department's current workforce is slated to retire by 2016.

President Obama announced Friday several new veterans hiring initiatives, including the creation of a $1 billion program to partner the Veterans Affairs Department with agencies departments responsible for public lands such as Agriculture, Commerce and Interior.

Although veteran hiring reached new heights in fiscal 2011, with vets accounting for 28.5 percent of all federal hires, the Obama administration said it must do more.

"Our veterans are some of the most highly trained, highly educated, highly skilled workers that we’ve got,” Obama said, speaking at an Arlington, Va., firehouse. “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that when our troops come home, they come home to new jobs and new opportunities and new ways to serve their country."

The $1 billion Veteran Jobs Corps will create positions conducting visitor programs, building trails, restoring habitat and guarding public parks for an estimated 20,000 veterans. VA will oversee the proposals and -- working with state, local and tribal governments -- will implement the program through a combination of grants, cooperative agreements and contracts.

The initiative recalls the Civilian Conservation Corps begun by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, officials said.

“It’s a very good indicator of the kind of thing that could happen,” Salazar said, referring to the Depression-era program credited with helping to get unemployed Americans back to work. “We certainly have those same kinds of needs today.”

Although the Veterans Job Corps is scheduled to be funded for only five years, Salazar believes it will lead to permanent employment, as 40 percent of Interior’s 72,000-employee workforce is slated to retire between now and 2016.

“Once people come and work at a national park they basically go through the gateway to permanent positions here at Interior or other agencies,” he said.

In addition, the president announced incentives for local law enforcement to hire post-Sept. 11 veterans to serve as first responders, police officers and firefighters.

Some $166 million will go to 2012 Community-Oriented Policing Services and another $320 million will go to grants for the 2012 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, with preference given to communities recruit and hire post-9/11 veterans.

With an eye toward expanding the program, Obama will propose another $4 billion to go toward COPS and SAFER grants in his fiscal 2013 budget, with preference toward communities hiring veterans.

“We want to encourage police and fire departments to tackle the advantage of training and competence of military experience” Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said.

The third leg of the initiative includes providing entrepreneurship training for service members transitioning out of the military. Through a partnership with the Small Business Administration, all service members will have access to a two-day program that teaches entrepreneurial skills. A more in-depth eight-week online training courses also will be available to 10,000 veterans annually.

With frequent bipartisan support for veteran’s hiring Obama is, “asking Congress to act on them in response to his budget proposals,” Salazar said. “We expect the Congress to act and the president expects the Congress to act.”