As home to the Delaware Army and Air National Guard and Dover Air Force Base, Delaware has seen its share of military deployments during the recent decade of conflict. Families gather for tearful good-byes as their loved ones are sent away for months at a time on military missions. Likewise, returning servicemen and women are celebrated with happy homecomings.
What happens after the welcoming hugs and kisses, as these members of the military prepare to either go back to their previous jobs, or search for new employment? What if their previous employer downsized, or even went out of business?
Tom Grayson can understand what the returning military veteran is going through. The Woodstown, New Jersey resident, who now works with JPMorgan Chase in Wilmington, was a communications specialist with the U.S. Army over a four-year period that brought him to such far-flung locations as Kosovo and Bosnia.
JPMorgan Chase: 100,000 Jobs Mission
Representatives from JPMorgan Chase in Wilmington discuss the company’s “100,000 Jobs Mission”, its focus on hiring returning veterans and the challenges those vets face when reentering the workforce.
“You don’t join the military to then come home and pound your chest that you were in the Army, or you were a Marine, that kind of thing,” Grayson said. At the same time, according to Grayson, “people in the military have a skill set that is inherent to being a disciplined employee, a dedicated employee who has initiative. Therefore, why wouldn’t they make a great employee in the corporate world, just as they did in the military world?”
JPMorgan Chase Executive Director of Military and Veterans Affairs Nate Herman said the firm’s current “100,000 Jobs Mission” reaches out to veterans across the country and focuses on developing opportunities for them in three distinct areas: jobs, home ownership and education.
“In Delaware we’re focused, as we are across the nation, on finding veterans and sourcing them into our organization,” Herman said. The firm is also building a coalition with similar-minded companies and organizations to attain the goal of hiring 100,000 veterans in ten years. It has expanded to include 30 companies as of early 2012.
In forming the company’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs in early 2011, JPMorgan Chase Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said “we owe our veterans a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
“It’s not only the right thing to do, but we need this talent,” Herman said.
In addition to more and more members of the military returning home after extensive deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, Herman said a significant downsizing of the military is also playing out amidst the ongoing budget debate in Washington. The U.S. Army and the Marine Corps in particular would be most affected.
Building partnerships and expanding networking opportunities are key factors in finding job opportunities for members of the military, according to JPMorgan Chase Staffing Manager Mark Wilfong. The company is working with Dover Air Force Base on a program to ease the transition for returning veterans, and maintains a network of veterans and employees who keep the lines of communication open.
“Many are just getting out of the service,” Wilfong said. “Others have been in the workforce for some period of time, so there’s really kind of a wide variety of veterans we’ve been focused on over the last year or so.”
Delaware National Guard Adjutant General Frank Vavala estimates that about 90-percent of the state’s Army and Air Force guard members have been deployed in some capacity since September 11th, 2001. Many had jobs to return to, but some are still pursuing employment.
Adjutant General Frank Vavala on returning National Guardsmen reentering the workplace
Adjutant General Frank Vavala on returning National Guardsmen reentering the workplace
“Obviously with the challenging economic conditions in the country we find that some of our folks come back to no jobs and that’s very disturbing,” Vavala said. “We are very fortunate in the state of Delaware to have some tremendous support from our governor, from corporations, from organizations like the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, certainly through the governor working with the State Department of Labor.”
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) State Chairman Frank Ingraham said the organization serves in a variety of ways to provide employment assistance, referrals, and search tips for men and women in uniform. ESGR provides weekly e-alerts for job openings and maintains four Career One Stop offices at the State Department of Labor, which offer opportunities to speak with a veteran’s employment counselor. ESGR also works with Delaware’s employers, including local governments, to make sure there is a full understanding of the laws concerning deployments, drill weekends and other service obligations.
A federal law, the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Act, provides certain rights to service members who are deployed for military duty or who are needed for regular military drills. “As well, the service member has certain responsibilities,” Ingraham said. “Primarily, the issues just come down to communication between the service member and the employer.”
Front lines to home front: Transitioning Delaware veterans back into workforce.
Gov. Markell and legislators discuss the “Veterans Opportunity Tax Credit” bill.
State government is also providing support in various ways to line up military veterans with job opportunities. This week, Governor Jack Markell (D) and members of the state legislature announced the introduction of the “Veterans Opportunity Tax Credit” bill – providing tax credits to businesses hiring veterans. Sponsored by Rep. Earl Jaques (D-Glasgow) in the House and State Sen. George Bunting (D-Bethany Beach) in the Senate, the legislation will offer employers up to a $1,500 dollar credit for each veteran of recent combat they hire. If approved, the credit will be available for the next three years, meaning each veteran hired could bring a company up to $4,500 dollars in tax incentives. The bill, modeled after the federal “Vow to Hire Heroes” Act and similar legislation in other states including Illinois, limits the credit to veterans who have served recently in Iraq, Afghanistan and other deployments associated with the global war on terrorism.
“Traditionally, veterans have had an unemployment rate below the national average. But unfortunately and sadly that is not true of veterans who have served since 2001. In fact, their unemployment rate has been higher than the national average,” said Gov. Markell, who first proposed expanding tax credits to Delaware businesses that hire veterans in his January State of the State Address. “Clearly, that is not a way to thank people for serving.”
“Many men and women returning home now are going to need a job,” added State Sen. Bunting. “I hope this in a small way helps gets some of them jobs.”
Veteran-owned businesses have also been added to the State Suppliers Diversity Council to make sure they have fair opportunities at winning state contracts.
“We found that we only had a few companies that were veteran-owned that were doing business with the state because they just didn’t know how to do it or didn’t understand all of the procedures,” said State Rep. Jaques (D-Glasgow), who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “Getting a person who is a veteran on that council will help immensely.”
Additionally the General Assembly has introduced legislation this year that would grant a temporary business license to spouses of military members and Delaware National Guard personnel, as they await their permanent license or permit. State Representative Darryl Scott (D-Dover) said the measure is designed to assist military families who often have to move on short notice. The temporary licenses would be in effect for six months, provided they hold a valid business license from another U.S. state or territory.
On the federal level, a Senate Veterans Jobs Caucus was formed in February to address issues facing an estimated 857,000 veterans who are unemployed. Delaware U.S. Senator Tom Carper joined the bipartisan panel, saying, “As a veteran, I know the sacrifices our service members make by defending our nation. We have a responsibility to ensure that our heroes have the proper resources and support to re-enter the work force once they arrive home.”
Veterans who desire training or additional education to advance their career opportunities are also getting support.
Legislation introduced by State Representative Debra Heffernan (D- Brandywine Hundred South) would offer free online education programs for members of the military returning from active duty. “With this legislation, we’re giving our soldiers returning home a leg up on starting or continuing their education so they can begin their post-military careers,” Heffernan said.
To qualify for exemption from tuition for online courses at the University of Delaware, Delaware State University or Delaware Technical Community College, the veteran would have to have been a resident of Delaware for at least one year and have served on active duty in the armed forces for at least 90 days with an honorable discharge. A veteran would have up to five years upon their discharge from the military to take advantage of free online courses. A military member with a service-related disability would be exempt from the 90-day service requirement.
Senator Carper is also one of the co-sponsors of a bill designed to improve educational benefits for qualifying veterans. The Military and Veterans Education Protection Act addresses for-profit educational institutions by overhauling the funding mechanism to make sure that veterans and military members are not taken advantage of through unscrupulous marketing.
According to Ingraham of the ESGR, skills that are prized in combat and in the service are sought by employers on the home front – the challenge may come in marketing those qualities.
“Employers like what the service member brings to the table: highly-skilled, well-trained, drug-free,” Ingraham said. He added that it’s often up to the job seeker to translate accomplishments from “military-speak” for the potential employer.
General Vavala added that guard members and members of the military acquire skills in a wide range of fields that could benefit their careers: communications, electronics and technology, working with heavy equipment, or training and experience in health care and medicine. “It’s a wide variety of skill sets that they get through the military that can be applicable to civilian jobs,” Vavala said.
Herman said the early success of the 100,000 jobs mission has him convinced that “this effort is not a ‘flavor of the month,’ but will sustain itself over time.”
Vavala is appreciative of the effort as Delawareans continue to serve overseas. The Delaware National Guard has a unit of about 160 soldiers currently in Afghanistan. Three other units are preparing for deployments there over the next year.
“It’s certainly not over for us,” Vavala said.
(This story was updated Thursday March 15 with details of the proposed state legislation offering tax credits to businesses hiring veterans and video from the announcement of the introduction of that legislation)