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Transitioning vets are great employees

Recent changes make the state 'military friendly'

Todd Burgess and Robin Baker encourage local businesses to hire veterans. Photo credit: Gail Wood

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An estimated 500 soldiers and airmen that will be leaving Joint Base Lewis-McChord each month for the next few years as the military downsizes will all be asking the same question.

What's next?

Finding that next job will be a tough challenge in a struggling economy with high employment.

A three-person panel from the JBLM recently talked at the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce about that transition from military to civilian life, encouraging businesses to hire military vets.

"Give them a look," said Todd Burgess, the Wounded Warrior's regional coordinator for education and employment. "You have to see what a veteran brings to the table."

With recent law changes that include tax breaks for businesses that hire military vets, Washington has become one of the most "military friendly" states in the country. There are job shadowing programs, giving veterans an opportunity to find that ideal job and also giving businesses an opportunity to give a vet a hand and get temporary employment.

"Ultimately, our goal is to decrease, or reduce, or eliminate unemployment among our transitioning servicemembers," said Robin Baker, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves. "

Burgess, an Army veteran, said the skills a military veteran brings to the interview table include dedication, accountability and leadership - all qualities the military instills. Burgess said today's soldier is also computer savvy. He said it's different from a generation ago when many Army recruits weren't college material and had no other options.

"The requirements to get into the military are so high today," Burgess said. "There's less than one percent of the population that could actually qualify to get into the military today. It's a different mentality now. The skill set is higher even for an infantryman."

For example, Burgess said a soldier on a Stryker has to operate a complicated computer system that includes an anti-mine system, communications and positioning equipment.

"They can't just be falling off a log and into the military any more," Burgess said. "From my background, I was an air defense guy. I routinely saw guys come who had bachelor degrees who were working on their masters."

Eric Rowe, a financial advisor for Edward Jones, has seen the "hire-ability" of veterans first hand. In the past 16 months, he's hired six financial advisers who were military veterans.

"They're hard working, disciplined and focused," Rowe said. "We know they can do the hard work."

Burgess said the military that will be leaving JBLM will be "job ready and high skilled."

The transition from military to civilian now begins 12 months from the day a veteran leaves the military. The process used to begin 90 days from departure. One of the many programs to aid in that transition is Camo 2 Commerce, a federally funded program that helps in job placement. Through this program, business owners can get tax credits and also be reimbursed 50 percent of the employment costs for the first three months.

Burgess said part of the training includes helping the veterans learn to speak "civilianeese."

Veterans applying for state jobs also receive bonus points on their tests, giving them another advantage. The GI Bill has also been expanded to help veterans in their job search. Finding that job is important in that veteran's next step.

"Of course, they'll be a much more contributing member of society if we can find them a living wage job in the community," Baker said.

Burgess said the military veterans that will be leaving JBLM are a workforce opportunity for area businesses to tap into.

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