WASHINGTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to answer President Barack Obama's call for more employment opportunities for veterans, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said here yesterday during a "VA for Vets" career fair and exposition that provided thousands of potential job opportunities for veterans.
"Many veterans will have the opportunity to walk out of this event with a job offer," he said. "Others will leave with a second interview lined up for that final hiring decision."
The event included the opportunity to prepare resumes on site and receive training on how to participate in a job interview.
Shinseki lauded the president and First Lady Michelle Obama for being "staunch advocates for veterans for the past three years."
"In 2009, President Obama issued an executive order to increase veteran employment in the federal government," he noted. "Today, veterans make up fully one-third of VA's workforce, and we have increased that goal to 40 percent. We expect to make that in the next several years."
Mary Santiago, VA's director of veterans employment services, said about 6,400 public and private employers participated in the career fair and expo, and that the event was the first of its kind to bring all of the units that help veterans together under one roof.
"So it's not only a career fair, it is an expo providing the services to all of our veterans all in the same place," she said.
Shinseki pointed out the "VA for Vets" program is the first veteran recruitment, retention and reintegration tool created in the federal government designed to help hire and keep veterans as part of the country's workforce.
"The idea is simple," he said. "Who better to help veterans than fellow veterans?"
Santiago, a nine-year Army veteran who once worked with former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell when Powell was an Army general, explained how the program helps veterans by building off their military experience.
"We're taking the experiences that they've had as veterans -- extensive experiences -- and applying them to positions that they can step in and just start doing the next day," she said.
Veterans, she noted, come to the job market fully trained.
"The biggest issue we find right now is translating their military skills to 'civvy speak,' as we call it," Santiago said. "Our program 'VA for Vets' allows them to do that through our system and through our coaches."
Santiago said the unique career fair provides a multitude of job opportunities, ranging from intelligence analysts and program managers to staff assistants and medics. "It's unbelievable the wide variety of jobs we are offering, especially from the private sector," she added.
Veterans such as Marie Allen, who served six years in the active Army followed by eight more in the Army Reserve, attended the career fair and expo hoping her experience and flexibility would help her to walk away with a job.
"Whatever I can get a job in doing, I'm flexible," Allen said. "And I have some experience. I'm a jack of all trades." Allen said she was previously unaware of many of the programs VA offers and didn't realize she was eligible to apply for those benefits until she attended the career fair.
"This is more in-depth, and that is what I really need. I'm glad that it is available and accessible to us," she said. "So I'm really looking forward to finding out more things that are available to me. I can't wait. I'm excited."
Santiago said the program's goals are clear.
"Our mission here is a simple one: make sure that every veteran that comes here walks away knowing that they've been helped," she said. "What we say here is, 'Veterans, you have done your job. Now let us do ours.'"