Veterans Summit Focuses on Jobs

The number of veterans in Charlotte who have served since 9/11 is expected to double in the next several years, growing by 7,000 people, according to a Department of Defense projection.

With them will likely come a jump in unemployment and more clients for local nonprofits, including shelters, where 20 percent of the tenants are veterans.

It's with all this in mind that 400 businesses, nonprofits and educational leaders gathered in uptown Tuesday for a "Community Veterans Summit" initiated by Foundation for the Carolinas and Charlotte Bridge Home.

Its first priority: Creating a "no runaround" approach to helping veterans in need develop their job skills and get hired as quickly as possible.

"Without a doubt, the No. 1 challenge returning veterans face is unemployment or underemployment," said Tommy Norman, head of Charlotte Bridge Home, a Charlotte charity launched last year to help veterans moving to the region. "Last year, the unemployment rate ... was highest among our younger veterans, ages 18-24, with nearly one-third unemployed. The most recent report for last month is that (nationally) unemployment among these young vets has risen to 38 percent."

Charlotte Bridge Home will lead the initiative, having already proven it can rally community resources by raising $1 million last spring for veteran scholarships and job skills training.

The strategies announced Tuesday include: --Launching a local coalition of at least 50 businesses committed to hiring veterans, including giving those companies training on how to recruit and retain veterans.

--Creating a centralized website to connect vets to jobs that match their skills.

--Advocating college credit for military training and working to remove barriers that keep soldiers from attending college, including ending the practice of charging out-of-state tuition for vets who lived overseas during their deployment.

Charles Bowman of Bank of America, one of those leading the initiative, said the goal is to have a plan in place by June "to make all this happen." This time next year, he added, the effort hopes to have proof of its success in getting veterans jobs.

"If each business hires just one veteran, it will be a start," he said. Other leaders in the initiative include representatives from Wells Fargo, Duke Energy, Snyders-Lance, Mecklenburg County Health Department, United Way, the Charlotte Chamber, Central Piedmont Community College and Southern Shows.

Beyond the jobs issue, the group intends to build a local network of resources to help with veterans' other needs, such as health care, housing and family support. A system is also going to be put in place to coordinate and match volunteers with veterans for mentoring.

However, Norman said not all that can be accomplished at once. As a result, the organizers chose to start with a focus on jobs, because financial stability can have the greatest impact, he said.

"Bottom line, folks. This is a much bigger issue than any one organization can handle," he said.

"That's why we need to come together in a deliberate and organized way. ... We won't have everything done by this time next year, but we will have a great start."

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