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Veteran volunteers enlist to fight unemployment

Oct. 11, 2012 - 02:31PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 11, 2012 - 02:31PM  |  
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A new program kicked off this week that aims to reduce veteran unemployment by putting volunteers in 20 communities around the country.

Thirty volunteers, half of whom are veterans themselves, were sworn into the Veteran Leadership Corps on Tuesday during the Community Blueprint launch reception at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

An extension of AmeriCorps, the Veteran Leadership Corps will place volunteers in communities to connect veterans and their spouses with resources to help them reintegrate into civilian life. The Community Blueprint aims to provide a framework through which local communities will coordinate services between government, nonprofit and other organizations to improve the lives of veterans and their families.

"Local communities must be the cornerstone of any national program to reduce veteran and military spouse unemployment," said Kevin Schmeigel, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes, an initiative of the Chamber of Commerce that helped draft the blueprint.

"The Community Blueprint is based on the notion that veterans can often reach out and help other veterans in ways that others cannot," said Stephanie Weiss, the chief marketing officer for Points of Light, a non-profit organization focused on volunteer services.

Points of Light leads a coalition of more than 55 non-profit and government organizations in implementing the plan. Hiring Our Heroes helped draft the blueprint's sections dealing with employment.

"If they don't walk away with a job, we want to make sure they're better prepared for the next opportunity," said Army veteran Ross Cohen, Hiring Our Heroes' senior director of programs.

In addition to employment, the Community Blueprint seeks to connect veterans with housing, education and health care.

"When I transitioned out, I didn't understand how much it was going to be in terms of medical costs," former Petty Officer 2nd Class Elizabeth Perez said. Services that Perez was used to receiving in the military were no longer provided when she left the Navy in 2006 after nine years in uniform.

"In the military, everything is structured. You have one place to get that information," Perez said. "And when you come out you don't have that same kind of structure."

Perez, a newly sworn member of the Veteran Leadership Corps, will serve as a veteran advisor with Vets First in San Diego.

Volunteering tends to keep job seekers motivated, Cohen said. "When a veteran continues to serve, they report higher rates of successful reintegration," he said, citing a 2010 Civic Enterprises report.

Hiring Our Heroes also conducts workshops to help veterans and their spouses translate volunteer experiences into marketable resume skills.

Points of Light also lists resources on its website to reach veterans not included in the initial service areas.

"We hope to expand to 200 communities by 2014," Weiss said in an email.

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