By David McGee
The government should provide skills accreditation to its military that would aid with employment once they leave active duty, Senate hopeful Tim Kaine said Friday.
Kaine, a former Virginia governor and national chairman of the Democratic Party, suggested that policy during a roundtable discussion with local veterans at the new CityMac store. Polls show Kaine is in a dead heat with Republican George Allen for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Webb. Kaine also campaigned in Abingdon on Friday, met with the Bristol Herald Courier editorial board and stumped at the downtown Border Bash.
Kaine said he's heard from highly skilled veterans who aren't being hired, and chief among the reasons is that so many employers have no frame of reference for their skills. Only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has served in the military.
"We have veterans walking into civilian workplaces every day where the hiring officers don't understand the leadership skills and talents they bring and the technical skills and talents they bring," Kaine said. "For veterans, I would make it an expectation that every time they get trained in a skill, they would get the most analogous civilian credential that they could."
The military currently doesn't provide such credentials and certifications that could follow a military medic who wants to work as a nurse or emergency medical responder, Kaine said.
"If you build into the active duty culture, every time you get a skill you get a credential, then you take the credential into the civilian workplace, they then understand," Kaine said.
One attendee suggested such credentials could be verified through the community college system of each state.
Army veteran and Bristol Virginia City Councilman Ed Harlow said he appreciates Kaine's interest because he regularly touts the benefits of hiring veterans when doing economic development.
"It's a big transition because the military to civilian lifestyles are so much different. However, the leadership experience I received while I was in the military has served me better than anything that's ever happened to me," Harlow said. "In the military you have 23-, 24-, 25-year-old men in leadership positions where lives are laid in their hands every day. That's pretty significant."
The candidate also discussed providing better health care services.
Asked by Ann Gillenwater if he favored expanding service offerings for veterans, Kaine said funding would likely be the deciding factor but that providing quality service is a "moral" obligation.
"Nobody is going to disagree about the priority," Kaine said. "We will all agree there ought to be better services. If we're going to dramatically slash the federal budget, then how do you add to veterans services?"
Kaine also fielded questions about coal, natural gas, fracking and job creation during the hour-long session.
He repeated his support for the new Dominion coal-fired plant in Wise County and urged the coal industry to continue bringing cleaner coal to the market. He said doesn't believe President Barack Obama is trying to bankrupt the coal industry.
He also supports exploratory drilling for oil off the Virginia coast and the fracking process for accessing natural gas, so long as it doesn't contaminate the water and that the chemicals used are identified as safe.
His opponent has been a vocal supporter of Virginia coal, natural gas and drilling for oil -- comparing Southwest Virginia to the Middle East -- while criticizing restrictions by the federal Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration.