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Vets Descend on Washington for Career Fair and Expo

Veterans from the mid-Atlantic region seek meaningful employment at the Veterans Career Fair & Expo, in Washington D.C. The career fair is part of the White House "Joining Forces" initiative.
Vets Attend DC Career Fair and Expo

Veterans and Servicemembers line up to apply for thousands of public and private sector job opportunities at a major career fair hosted by VA. January 18, 2012.

Job opportunities were up for grabs on Wednesday at the Veterans Career Fair and Expo in Washington, D.C. Employers representing companies across the private sector, as well as several government agencies, were on site to discuss career and job opportunities to thousands of Veterans from the mid-Atlantic region.

The career fair is part of the White House “Joining Forces” initiative to put qualified Veterans into meaningful employment. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has made Veteran employment a high priority, and has moved to ensure programs like VA for Vets can help former service members translate their military skills to the civilian workforce.

When I asked a recruiter from the National Science Foundation why he felt Veterans made good employees, he looked at me like I asked a silly question. “You can’t hire anyone better than a Vet,” he said.

He might be a little biased with his own service in the Army, but he spoke about the discipline and teamwork that comes naturally to someone with military experience. A human resources manager at the Smithsonian agreed, and looked to fill leadership roles with former NCOs and officers.

Several agencies in the federal government looked to hire disabled Vets through a Veterans Recruitment Appointment, which allows for Vets with a 30 percent or more disability to apply non-competitively to federal jobs. The Department of Labor, which had over a dozen job announcements, had a few applicants that would’ve qualified for the VRA.

Many of the Veterans with whom I spoke were hunting for security related jobs. Darren Mallory, a 20-year Navy military policeman, was interested in a physical security job at VA. Others looked outside their military occupational specialties for other opportunities. Damien Ward, an engineer with three tours in Iraq, is going to school for information technology. He left his seasonal construction job and hoped to find more permanent work at the career fair.

It was great to see both young and old Vets strolling through the convention center with their branch of service printed on their lanyards. As my pal Kate pointed out earlier this week, some Vets have trouble translating their skills into a language civilians can understand, and others may not know where to begin. I heard from a few Vets that they sometimes leave their military experience off their resume, so it was good to see military pride out in full force.

VA for Vets was on hand to demonstrate new technology to hire Vets for VA’s workforce. The hiring process is a bit complex and confusing (I can tell from experience), so anything to help hire more Vets here is a huge relief.

I left the career fair while it was still abuzz with Vets telling stories, cracking jokes, and preparing for interviews. I couldn’t help but leave with an infectious case of optimism. Veterans have had their fair share of the hardships that come with military service. Unemployment should not be one of them. But over the next few weeks, many of the Veterans I encountered will get that anticipated phone call, and hear the words they’ve been waiting for: “When can you start?”