Just two weeks ago, lawmakers in Congress cut off a lifeline for approximately 900,000 veterans who rely on food stamps. The same day, a California audit uncovered what veterans here know far too well: that state programs designed to help our unemployed heroes are not working.
We see so many politicians on TV and in print talk about how they care about our nation’s veterans. But actions speak louder than words, and judging by the past two weeks, our country does not care that veterans don’t have access to the American dream they fought to protect.
Workers across California are standing together to change that.
“Veterans + Labor — Partners in Service” is a new project sponsored by California’s labor unions that spearheads helping veterans on three fronts: providing volunteer service to veterans in our communities, holding a special Veterans Day event to honor those who have served our nation so proudly and promoting public policies in Sacramento focused on opening doors to good jobs and critical services for veterans.
During the week leading up to Veterans Day, union members throughout California will give back by volunteering to provide services veterans need. Whether it’s improving a home for the spouse of a deployed soldier, refurbishing a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall or just saying thanks to veterans at a Veterans Affairs hospital, California’s workers will devote thousands of hours to honoring and serving our veterans.
On Veterans Day itself, we’re proud that a special Veterans Day event will take place in Orange County at the OC Fair and Events Center.
This free celebration will allow veterans, their families and the entire community to celebrate our nation’s heroes with live music and entertainment, free hot dogs and exhibits featuring military vehicles and memorabilia. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. attendees will be able to meet and thank veterans, send specially-made care packages overseas and make holiday cards to give to ailing veterans.
There will also be an exclusive memorial stamp unveiling by the U.S. Postal Service, and information about access to family-supporting jobs for veterans, free wheelchairs and a host of other veterans services.
And tomorrow in Sacramento, California’s labor unions will unveil a policy platform that will have a direct and lasting impact on veterans and their families. The initiatives will focus on creating good jobs and housing for veterans and ensuring that they actually receive the benefits to which they are entitled. For example:
- Jobs are the No. 1 concern of veterans. Yet California has one of the lowest rates in the country of placing veterans in jobs. We have to change that now by establishing job creation for veterans as a statewide priority.
- It’s a fact that many veterans return to civilian life with significant skills that can be readily adapted to a variety of careers. But too often those skills are disregarded because the language used to describe job duties in the military doesn’t match civilian job descriptions. We need to break down many of these unnecessary barriers and maximize the many skills veterans learn during their service to our country so that they can qualify for and retain good jobs paying living wages.
- We support policies that provide job protections for veterans and prevent discrimination. We not only have to provide more job opportunities for veterans, we have to help them keep those jobs when called to service. Veterans should be able to have the security of knowing their job will be waiting for them when they return and that they can keep health care coverage for their families while they are serving. Today there is no federal or state law that requires the investigation of employer discrimination against veterans.
- California lacks a single, integrated portal to provide employment-related services to veterans. As a result, veterans find many services fragmented and inaccessible. We need to develop policies and programs that coordinate and streamline the delivery of job services to veterans and tailor services to their special needs and skill sets.
- Veterans are also more likely than the general population to become homeless and make up a disproportionate share of the homeless. This is wrong. Not a single veteran should be homeless after serving our country. One way to right this wrong is to implement policies and provide funding to build more housing for veterans.
- Although more veterans live in California than in any other state, we lag behind other states in the amount of benefits claimed by veterans. A Little Hoover Commission study estimated that California leaves up to $1 billion in federal funds unclaimed because veterans don’t sign up for benefits they’re entitled to. One reason this occurs is that we simply don’t do a good enough job of communicating with veterans about the benefits they’ve earned. We support programs that provide outreach to veterans so they know what they’re entitled to and what they deserve.
- The demographics of California’s veteran population are changing. It is rapidly aging, and today 70 percent of veterans in California are age 50 or over. But there are also large numbers of younger veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and more women than ever before. Different groups of veterans need different services for their transition to civilian life. We support tailoring programs and policies to the needs of our diverse veteran population.
There’s a lot of work ahead, but California’s working men and women are up to the challenge. Veterans have honorably served our country with distinction and commitment. Members of California’s labor unions, many of whom are themselves veterans, believe veterans deserve our strongest commitment to them. We want our veterans to know through not just words but actions how deeply we honor their service.
We hope you’ll join us at www.veteransandlabor.com
Jennifer Muir is a Voice of OC Community Editorial Board member and the communications director for the Orange County Employees Association, which represents nearly 18,000 public employees in Orange County.